- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Only 1 in 5 veterans eligible for the Choice Card were offered the option to get private care outside the Veterans Affairs Department, according to a report released Tuesday by Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The VFW report found that just 19 percent of veterans who either live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment were offered the option to receive non-VA care.

Almost all of those veterans who were not offered the option said they were interested in private care.

The president’s budget released last month sought to defund parts of the program. VA Secretary Robert McDonald defended that budget, saying that since veterans are choosing not to use the program, he needs to use that money to see those who are coming to the VA instead.

About half of VFW survey participants who were offered outside care opted to go to the VA instead.

VFW officials will deliver the survey results, compiled from more than 2,500 responses, to members of Congress this week, according to a statement.

“The Veterans Choice Program is an ambitious initiative that is supposed to offer more options to veterans who need it, which is why the VFW has an obligation to keep our pulse on the veterans’ community to ensure the program works,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud.

The VA said that it appreciated the VFW’s input and would continue to work with it and other veterans service organizations “to learn from their members and better inform veterans of their eligibility and options available.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs remains committed to providing veterans with the care that they have earned where they want it and how they want it,” the statement said.

A bill to reform the VA became law in August as a response to the wait-time scandal where a whistleblower alleged veterans were dying while waiting for care on secret lists. Part of the law established the Choice Card program, which let veterans who lived too far from a facility or waited too long for an appointment to go to a private healthcare provider in an attempt to cut down wait times.

The program has faced several problems, including a delayed roll out and veterans complaining that it’s difficult to use. Some vets have also said that the 40 mile rule is defined “as the crow flies,” not by the distance a veteran actually has to travel.

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