Op-Ed: VA patients anxiously await a start date for the ‘Care’ program
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The latest word Veterans have regarding the use of civilian medical facilities when the Veterans Affairs (VA) is unable to provide the treatment needed is that the name of the program has been changed from “Choice” to “Care,” and that VA Secretary [David] Shulkin has agreed not to offer the Individually Unemployable (IU) benefit as a possible offset to fund the CARE Program
Everyone is fully aware that the VA is not going to be able to obey PAYGO rules and find offsetting programs they can discontinue without taking sorely needed benefits away from the VA patients. The government should either seek offsets within other departments (perhaps the Department of Defense) or increase the VA’s budget to accommodate the Care Program.
It has been stated that it may take as long as a year to get the Care Program up and running. Since, in the interim period, there are quite a number of Veterans who will probably need medical care not available through the VA, what will be done to provide the needed treatment? Also, VA patients who live a considerable distance from a full-service VA facility and who are physically unable to make the trips will probably need treatment, as well; what happens to them?
While the VA is gearing-up for treatment via Care, Veterans should be kept informed of the progress being made and should be given a firm “start date” as soon as that date is known.
It has been suggested that some funds to help offset the cost of the Care Program can be realized by discontinuing the VA Beneficiary Travel Reimbursement Program. It is believed that more than a billion dollars annually would be freed up if that “totally unfair” program was discontinued.
If the VA’s travel reimbursement program is not offered up, that program needs to be immediately re-written in order to make it fair to VA patients. The requirement for a “deductible” should be deleted (VA patients are the only group of people who must satisfy a deductible before they receive a penny of travel reimbursement); the VA Secretary should be given authority to increase the VA travel reimbursement rate if and when the GSA changes the national reimbursement rate; and the practice of paying VA patients travel reimbursement, in cash, on the same day as their appointments should be re-instated. It should be noted that these recommended changes would increase the overall cost of the VA’s Beneficiary Travel Reimbursement Program.
Sadly, if we have to wait a year before starting to use the Care Program, we shall probably lose some more 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, the USS Missouri (BB-63), before returning to the mainland in Arkansas in 2015.