By Debbie Gregory.
After more than two years of debate, there is finally agreement about how best to provide veteran health care today and over the next 20 years. The solution is the creation of local integrated health care networks that combine the strength of the VA system with community care, whenever and wherever gaps in coverage exist.
The VA-community integrated networks will replace the current Choice Program, which has been plagued by poor coordination, scheduling problems, and payment delays. Community providers will get paid on a timely basis because the networks will be operated by the local VA.
Two years ago Congress created the Veterans Choice Program after scandals revealed that some veterans were waiting months to get essential medical care. The $10 billion program was designed to get veterans care quickly by letting them choose a doctor outside the VA system. Unfortunately, the band-aid fix was itself broken.
The Choice program was supposed to get local, private health care for vets who lived 40 miles away or whom the VA couldn’t see within 30 days, but thousands of veterans got lost in the confusing system, and many wait times increased under the program.
The VA-community networks will be designed on a community-by-community basis, matching each veteran’s needs to local resources. As a result, veterans who need an appointment can get an appointment with a highly-qualified, competent doctor.
With VA health care facilities playing the lead management and clinical role, medical care for ill and injured veterans will be coordinated and veteran-centric. When a veteran sees a doctor in the network, whether at VA or in the community sector, the care will be focused on the health of the “whole veteran,” which will lead to the best health outcomes for the men and women who served.