Every month, I receive publications from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. Lately, articles have focused on troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The funding problems have existed for years, and the new law is a temporary fix. If our legislators were forced to use the VA health system, we would surely receive much better funding. The thought of privatizing veterans’ health care in some cases may be a good idea until the bill is not paid. The VA already often fails to pay its bills on time, and a service performed outside the VA is sometimes 60 to 90 days late.
About $16 billion has been appropriated for health service outside the VA system when a veteran lives more than 40 miles away from a VA hospital. Treatment will have to be OK’d through the VA Hospital financial department, know to veterans as Fee Basis. In all cases, the consultation for a specialist is submitted by a veteran’s primary care provider to the local VA hospital. Southwestern Colorado, from Pagosa Springs to Cortez, is in the Albuquerque VA region. This “new program” is for continued funding for these services in the private sector.
The way I understand the 40-mile rule is: If the veteran can’t be treated in a timely fashion then, if approved, he or she will be consulted to a VA vendor in the veteran’s area. For instance, an eye issue is done by a contract vendor in Farmington, sleep studies are done in Farmington; mammograms are done in Farmington, and colonoscopies done in Durango. The basic problem is timely payment to the vendor. In many cases, a veteran receives the bill if it is not paid in 30 days with the usual “payment due upon receipt.” After ninety days a letter from a collection agency arrives, and the veteran has to write a letter to the Fee Base office for an approved payment, which they previously approved from her primary care provider.
Many of our veterans are faced with a late payment or no payment from the VA Region Hospital Fee Base office. And what private health care provider, or “vendor,” wants to wait 90 days for payment? The vendor is forced to accept VA pricing, and what physician wants to wait for a predetermined payment? In the end, the veteran gets the shaft.
I attended Tipton’s local town hall meeting this month. I was not selected to ask a question, one of which was about timely payments. A few veteran questions came up, but I’m not sure they were really answered. I believe that everyone should have been able to ask their congressman questions that may be of interest to all in attendance. I listened and waited patiently for my ticket to be drawn so that I could pick from a list of questions. Those that did get called were allowed to ask one question – what a crock! I gave my list of questions to Tipton’s representative with my name, e-mail and phone number. I have yet to hear from him.
I left the meeting with the same impression I had before about Tipton. He was not shy about telling everyone about what he has done for Colorado, but I was taken back when he said that veterans need to stick together and keep pushing to get things resolved. I thought that we elected him to voice constituents’ concerns. The legislator should respond to these interests, not merely provide lip service.
Robert Valencia is a retired Army Sergeant First Class, member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. He can be reached at 970-560-1891. Listen to Veterans Forum the last Friday of the month at 8:30am on KSJD radio FM 90.5/91.5