AUSTIN (KXAN) — Access to health care has become a bigger challenge for veterans nationwide. In Texas, some veterans wait months to schedule an appointment through the VA system.
Seton Healthcare Family, one of the largest health care providers in Central Texas, is now taking on the Veterans Choice Program. The program debuted in 2014 to help reduce delays by scheduling appointments with private facilities when the VA couldn’t provide treatment quickly.
“it’s not just getting to the appointment,” Jesús Garza, President and CEO of Seton Healthcare Family said. “It’s what happens after the appointment.”
The Veterans Choice Program received a lot of criticism shortly after it started, with some saying the program hasn’t resolved the backlog of veterans waiting to get care.
Despite the challenges, Seton Healthcare Family has decided to opt into the program. Garza said Seton hopes to lead the charge for other health care systems to do the same across the state, but some veterans are saying it may be too late.
“If it is a necessity that they end up as an admission, they are closer to home, their support network is closer to home,” Garza said, “so that their home network is able to give them the support that they need.”
After serving six years in the United States Military, Bill Feter suffered shrapnel injuries in the field, leaving him in need of a wheelchair.
“Right after that happened I got sent back to the states,” Feter said.
Feter settled down in Texas and sought out help from the VA for various health issues.
“I’d call them up and say, ‘I need to come in for a check-up,’ and they would give me a three month window,” Feter said. “They’d say, the latest we have is you know, 90 days out. I’m thinking I could be dead 90 days out.”
The long wait made Feter eligible for a choice card, helping him lock down an appointment, but faced him with yet another challenge.
“Eventually, I get them to start scheduling appointments,” Feter said, “but they don’t provide the transportation to get there.”
Feter said he’s glad more options, like Seton, are now available. However, he is worried the timing may be a little too late.
The Veterans Choice Program was created by Congress as a three-year pilot program, ending in the the fall of 2017.
Since the program started, the VA reports that more than 21,000 appointments have been made using the choice program. Texas is the second highest state for veterans needing medical appointments.
In order to qualify for the program veterans must live more than 40-miles driving distance from a VA facility or are unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days.