Currently, only certain veterans are allowed to choose their doctor – those who can’t get an appointment within 30 days and those living 40 miles or more from a VA health facility. That number should be broadened and limitations to private access reduced. If a veteran wants to see a neighborhood physician, he or she has earned that choice. The VA must remain the guarantor of that choice and that care.
The challenge in expanding the choice program is in the cost and outreach. Approximately 30,000 veterans have opted to use the program, a paltry number given the nearly 9 million veterans who use VA hospitals. Though the program is still new, the VA has not sufficiently encouraged veterans to participate. Cost is also a problem. Although total VA funding grew by nearly 73 percent since 2009, the VA ran out of money in 2015. While it is unconscionable that the VA still can’t afford to provide reasonable options for veterans, the fact remains that choice is expensive and there needs to be a way to pay for it.
With budgetary concerns in mind, increasing choice cannot come at the expense of veterans receiving care at the VA. Despite well-documented problems with VA administrators, many veterans prefer to receive their care at VA hospitals. And many VA facilities specialize in care like post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and prosthetics.