Veterans Choice Changes Coming To Montana In July
The Veterans health system in Montana is preparing to roll out a new effort aimed at fixing problems with the troubled “Veterans Choice” program.
Choice, launched by Congress in 2014, was supposed to help vets who live far from from VA facilities, or who have waited more than 30 days for care, get appointments in the private sector faster. It has been called a failure by many, although some vets have reported that Choice has improved their care.
In April President Trump signed a bill to extend the Choice program. That bill was co-sponsored by Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Tester and the VA asked for an extension to give the VA until January to fix choice.
A pilot program to implement potential fixes should launch in Montana in July, says VA Montana Associate Director Tony Giljum.
"It will allow our VA staff to work directly with the patient and the providers in our communities to ensure that veterans get appointed in a timely manner," Giljum says.
Veterans Choice used a third-party contractor to set up those appointments. Many Montana veterans complain that that private company fails them, and clinics and hospitals say the company is slow to pay. The CEO of Community Hospital in Missoula says it now has more than $2 million in bills it's sent Veterans Choice administrators that are more than 90 days late.
The Montana VA's Giljum says that a big part of the VA's challenge in taking over Choice will be re-building trust.
"One of the unfortunate outcomes of the situation we're in is providers aren't paid, and they drop out of the system. Our veterans become disenchanted or just saddened by the entire situation.," says Giljum.
Giljum spoke at a forum organized by Senator Tester in Missoula Wednesday morning.
Tester said the Veterans Affairs committee he sits on is working on, “a major Veterans Choice bill” this summer. Tester says he will work to fend off efforts to privatize the VA.