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Op-Ed: A Hopeful Outlook On V.A. Reform Under Trump From A Disabled Veteran

January 06, 2017

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From the beginning of the war in Iraq in March of 2003, the number of V.A. patients has steadily increased. It’s grown so large in fact, that the V.A. is unable to provide timely and adequate health care for all of the Veterans seeking care.

In 2014, Congress finally approved a bill which provided for the outsourcing of health care to civilian medical facilities. The program is entitled, “Veterans’ Choice Program,” and authorizes certain eligible V.A. patients to be treated by civilian doctors for a trial period of three years, ending in 2017. Because of this program, patients were receiving treatment quicker and the program seemed to be working satisfactorily. However, reimbursement to the civilian facilities for services rendered bogged-down and caused many civilian doctors and facilities to become disenchanted with the program. In 2015, rumors started which indicated that the program was going to be scrapped at the end of the trial period.

My own personal experience with the Veterans’ Choice Program was quite a disappointment. When I purchased a home in Arkansas in 2015, I found myself at least 60 miles from the closest full facility V.A. clinic which was located in Little Rock, Arkansas. As my disability involves a spinal injury, the 120 mile roundtrip was extremely painful for me. Two spinal surgeries prior to leaving the U.S. Navy and one surgery post-retirement has left me with fusions in the upper and lower portions of my spine. When I requested treatment under the Veterans’ Choice Program, the Little Rock V.A. clinic advised me that they did not use the Veterans’ Choice Program for their patients. My request was therefore denied. I am a short 20+ miles from a V.A. Clinic in Hot Springs, AR where I go for my Coumadin Clinic blood tests every month. However, the Hot Springs Clinic does not have a dentist, an eye doctor, or an ear doctor.

In view of the distance to Little Rock and the inability to take advantage of the Veterans’ Choice Program, I have done without care for my eyes, ears and teeth since mid-May 2015. As a permanently disabled V.A. patient, I am eligible for new glasses annually; teeth cleaning every six months; and ear treatments (including hearing aids) as and when needed. The trial period for the Choice Program has not yet been cancelled, but the Little Rock V.A. Clinic denied my request to use the program.

Coincidentally, I read a news report just a few days ago which indicated that President-Elect Trump has recently sought the help of healthcare executives in discussions regarding a major reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the V.A. is not capable of providing timely, adequate care in their clinics and/or hospitals, President-Elect Trump wanted to see if there were any options that might be offered to Veterans which would allow them to use medical facilities of their own choosing.

President-Elect Trump has indicated that his main priority was to eliminate the long wait-times Veterans were experiencing with the V.A..

In my humble opinion, the outsourcing of health care to civilian medical facilities by the V.A. would fix one of the V.A.’s biggest problems, but it would only be successful if the reimbursements (for services rendered) to the civilian doctors and facilities were also made in a timely manner.

Approval of a Veterans’ Choice Program would probably reduce the number of veterans who might otherwise perish because adequate and timely health care was not provided for them.

Veterans with whom I have constant discussions concerning legislation affecting them have expressed great delight to learn of the President-Elect’s interest in our behalf. We anxiously await the final decision on outsourcing V.A. health care with a great deal of interest and with as much patience as we can muster. There is a dire need for such a program for many of our Veterans!

Brooks Outland is a Korean and Vietnam war veteran.He volunteered to serve in Vietnam because he was keen to help the people of South Vietnam keep their freedom and their country from communist takeover by the North. After retiring Brooks and his wife spent eight years volunteering aboard his old battleship, USS Missouri (BB-63), before returning to the mainland in Arkansas in 2015.