Salmon Press: Choice Card Still Confusing, Frustrating for Veterans
All three members of the Congressional delegation on hand — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of Madbury, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of Nashua, and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a Democrat of Hopkinton — said that they are determined to implement the new Veterans Choice Card — part of the VA Reform Bill — so that it will actually allow qualified vets "in the system" who live more than 20 miles from the White River Junction VA Medical Center to receive private sector medical care at a local hospital, clinic or medical services office.
All members of the trio said, "We want to get it right!"
"You have served us, and we are here to serve you," Kuster added.
Recently passed legislation, now in the rule-making process, will almost certainly ease some obstacles.
"Our commitment is to make available timely and easy access to needed medical care," explained Director Deborah Amdur of the White River Jct. VA Medical Center. She described the VA's strategic plan that calls for setting up eight Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in New Hampshire. That afternoon the seventh CBOC opened in Littleton; the sixth had had a "soft" opening in mid-June in Colebrook.
Berlin will be served on a short-term basis with a temporary basis with a one-day-a-week-or-more mobile Vet Van that will be parked at the Androscoggin Valley Hospital, starting before the end of October, thanks to a partnership forged with the local Vet Center. This location will allow vets to get lab tests, X-rays, and MRIs and the like done easily and conveniently. Tele-health services to connect with specialists in White River Junction will also likely be set up. A permanent full-time clinic will open at AVH at a later date, still to be determined.
The comments of a number of frustrated veterans in the audience revealed that the contract signed between the VA and Health Net, a third-party provider of administrative services, are written so that its staff must make arrange appointments times and days for the vets trying to use their Choice Card options.
In addition, some vets have apparently felt insulted when they have been asked whether or not they are "combat vets," which is not relevant to their being qualified for medical care.
Electronic file transfers are take too much time and are a source of frustration.
Norm Brown of Jefferson complained that arranging for van transportation to White River is nearly impossible because of what he believes are unreasonable standards for volunteer drivers — higher than those required for a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).
Volunteers driving a van in the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Transportation Network must pass a physical in which they are asked about any prescription drugs they are taking.
"I'm a licensed pilot who can fly an airplane, but I'm not allowed to drive a DAV van," said one frustrated volunteer driver.
"Thank you for sharing your frustrations; there's a lot of work still to be done," Shaheen said. "We'll keep at it until we get it right!"
Ayotte also pledged that the three members of the Congressional delegation on hand would continue to work together, especially on what appear to be problem areas in the third-party contract as well as volunteer driver eligibility.
Kuster said that she and her staff members had taken copious notes and that she and N.H. delegation members will continue to work in a bipartisan, bicameral effort to ensure that veterans have good access to healthcare close to home.