A new Veterans Affairs program aimed at reducing long wait times for health care has had the opposite effect for scores of Alaska vets. At a congressional hearing today, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said the Veterans Choice program is undermining older systems that helped Alaskans use their VA benefits to get treatment outside the VA. He called the implementation of the Choice program a developing crisis for Alaska.
“It’s Phoenix all over again,” he said. “People are having their appointments cancelled at the last minute. Showing up for surgery — and the VA in Washington has to take responsibility. It can’t blame this on the Congress.”
Congress mandated the Choice program last year after a scandal erupted in Phoenix over long waiting lists. Congress also put $10 billion into the Choice account, so VA officials in Alaska have been requiring vets to use that program to get appointments at private clinics. Veterans, though, say the program is difficult to use and that too few providers are signed on.
Sullivan says the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold an Alaska field hearing in August. Sullivan said he considered putting a hold on a VA nominee last night, blocking the confirmation of the undersecretary for health, but decided against it after securing his commitment to come to Alaska for the hearing.