FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A 2014 law to reform the Veterans Affairs health care system has only made things worse in Alaska, according to veterans testifying Monday at a congressional listening session in Fairbanks.
A group of about two dozen veterans at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly chambers told Dr. David Shulkin, the third-in-command at the VA, that the Veterans Choice Act hasn't delivered the improved care that it promised, reported The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Last year's law called for creation of a temporary program that allows veterans across the nation to seek treatment at clinics and hospitals outside the VA system if they face waits of more than 30 days or live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility.
But the frustrated veterans who testified said they've been met with denials of service, long delays for the VA to pay claims and confusing, automated telephone calls when they want answers.
"I had surgery on March 23. I had a bill sitting on my desk for 90 grand up until August. You tell me what hospital is going to sit and wait for their money to be paid when services have been rendered?" said Darrell Walker, Alaska commander of the nonprofit organization Disabled American Veterans. "And then you call Choice (the Choice program) ... every time you call you don't get the same service center."
David McIntyre Jr., the CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, attended Monday's hearing and said many of the veterans' complaints are a result of the Choice Act's quick implementation, and not the law itself.
"Basically Congress said you have 90 days to take our instructions, design a system," he said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, has held meetings about the Choice Act across the state this month in response to complaints from constituents. The meetings culminate in a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee field hearing Tuesday in Eagle River.