Some Missoula Veterans Say VA Wait Times, ‘Choice’ Program Still Taking Too Long
As Veteran’s Day approaches, The Veteran’s Administration continues to make headlines for long wait times. Missoula-area veteran Russ Beree has cancer. He served as a pilot in Vietnam, but lately his flying has been out of state to receive his yearly dermatological exam.
"They say 'We can't do outsourcing, we have to have it done by a VA doctor, that saves money,' Beree said. "They bought me a one way short term ticket from here to Salt Lake. I took a $40 cab ride to the hospital where I spent 15 minutes with the doctor. I took another $40 cab ride back to the airport and then had another short, one-way ticket back to Missoula. All because they didn't want to send me to a doctor in Missoula that would have probably cost about $100. With all the round trip tickets and everything, they probably spent over $2,000."
In 2014, the U.S. Congress created a new program called “Veteran’s Choice,” which was co-sponsored by Montana Senator Jon Tester. It was intended to give veterans who had waited more than 30 days for care or had to drive more than 40 miles to a clinic a choice in health care providers, but Beree says a lack of communication has made this system a failure for him.
"You can't go to an appointment unless it's approved by the choice program," Beree said. "The least amount of time I have had [waiting for approval] is 60 days. Once you join the choice program they say they'll have a representative call you in five days, but that has never, ever happened. I've never had a call back. I've had to call repeatedly and I keep getting the same story: 'well, you have to wait until they call you.' It's so deep in bureaucracy that nobody will do anything except put you off."
30-year old Iraq war veteran Ryan Keller said he has also had to wait for more than a month for a dermatological appointment. He says the problems seem to stem from a lack of VA staff, “we had a surge in Iraq, we had a surge in Afghanistan, but there was never a surge at the VA,” Keller said.