Yet another major development in KGUN9's investigation into the Tucson VA.
Senator John McCain announced Monday his "Care Veterans Deserve" action plan. It lays out immediate steps to help veterans now to address systemic problems that still plague all the VA's -- including Tucson.
It expands on the bipartisan VA reform bill -- that included the Veterans Choice program -- enacted in 2014 after the Phoenix scandal.
McCain said, "Our veterans should not have to wait for the same VA bureaucrats who caused these problems in the first place to finally 'get it' and start implementing reform."
9OYS investigative reporter Valerie Cavazos talked with several Southern Arizona veterans who've had major issues with the Veterans Choice program. One of them shares his story.
"It's not fun dealing with the people at the VA," said a Vietnam veteran who doesn't want his identity revealed because he fears retaliation by VA leadership.
His frustrations began when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October, but it would take two months to schedule the surgery. So VA staff suggested he use the VA Choice Card, which lets veterans see outside doctors.
But, he said, he knew nothing about it and the VA staff was of little help. "I went through 7 different people and 800 numbers and finally found out it was a big circle that brought me all the way back out to the VA. They have an office right there at the VA and no one even knew about it," said the veteran.
Senator John McCain's "Care Veterans Deserve Action Plan" addresses that issue criticizing the VA for being slow to educate eligible veterans. A source confirms Tucson VA leadership fell short in that area.
The veteran had another issue with payment. He had to go through the insurance agency, Tri West, that covers vets in the Veterans Choice program.
"So it was a battle between the VA and who would pay and why should they pay for it. And finally it was approved. And then only approved to see an outside doctor," said the veteran.
After all that, it still took two month to get the surgery done.
McCain action plan calls for the VA to work with Tri-West to allow pre-authorization for health care. And allow veterans to visit walk-in clinics without pre-authorization or copayment.
Here's the entire media release:
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ANNOUNCES "CARE VETERANS DESERVE" ACTION PLAN
Washington, D.C. - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced his Care Veterans Deserve action plan, which lays out immediate steps to help our veterans now, as well as longer-term solutions to address the systemic problems that still plague the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Care Veterans Deserve action plan includes proposals that range from opening the VA on nights and weekends to enable local providers in the community who are interested in offering care to disabled veterans during their off-hours, to making the VA Choice Card universal and permanent so that all eligible veterans have the flexibility to see the doctor of their choice without having to worry about wait-time and distance restrictions.
Senator McCain's action plan supplements and expands on the reforms that were enacted under the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, legislation that Senator McCain originally sponsored that makes some of the most significant reforms to the VA in decades. The Care Veterans Deserve action plan also builds on vitally important provisions enacted by the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, another law that Senator McCain successfully led last year.
"It has been a long, frustrating two years since the tragic and avoidable scandal first broke of veterans at the Phoenix VA dying while waiting for appointments on non-existent waitlists," said Senator McCain. "I am proud of the bipartisan VA reform bill I led, particularly when it comes to the VA Choice Card, and of my work passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevent for American Veterans Act, which is now law. But, implementing these reforms has been too slow, and veterans are still not receiving the care they deserve. Our veterans should not have to wait for the same VA bureaucrats who caused these problems in the first place to finally 'get it' and start implementing reform. Our moral obligation to our veterans requires decisive action now.
"That is why today I am laying out my Care Veterans Deserve action plan. This plan offers a path towards better care for our veterans by proposing solutions to immediate problems now, as well as longer-term legislative efforts to provide our veterans greater flexibility and more options in care well into the future. Delivering Arizona's veterans the best quality health care is my top priority, and I will not stop fighting until every veteran's health care is of the highest caliber-period."
EXPAND HEALTH CARE OPTIONS FOR VETERANS NOW
· Allow all veterans eligible for VA health care to visit walk-in clinics without pre-authorization or copayment.
· Extend Arizona VA pharmacy hours to Saturday, Sunday, federal holidays and until 8pm on weekdays to provide comparable pharmacy services offered by retail pharmacies.
· Open the VA on nights and weekends for qualified, local providers in the community volunteering to care for veterans during their off-hours.
· Work with TriWest to allow pre-authorization for health care.
EDUCATION AND OVERSIGHT OF VA CHOICE CARD IMPLEMENTATION
· Educate veterans about who is eligible for the VA Choice Card now. The VA has been slow to educate veterans that they are eligible for the program.
· Fully and immediately implement the VA Choice Card. The VA has been dragging its feet on fully implementing this critical program and must present a plan of action and associated milestones to ensure the program's full and effective implementation.
SUPPORT REINTEGRATION PROGRAMS THROUGH VETERANS ASSOCIATIONS
· Work with local and national organizations to help reintegrate returning veterans by providing financial, employment, and medical services.
· Utilize the authorities in the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which Senator McCain originally sponsored, that provides for increased mental health resources and evidence-based prioritization of programs to prevent suicide.
· Fully implement the Clay Hunt Act provision that allows the VA to forgive higher education loans for mental health care providers who serve our nation's veterans.
HELP ARIZONA VETERANS DIRECTLY, WHERE THEY ARE, THROUGH MOBILE OFFICE HOURS
· Senator McCain's office will continue to travel to veterans events and host mobile office hours in conjunction with the VA to help navigate issues and streamline the bureaucracy.
· Senator McCain's staff will continue to host mobile office hours in cities across Arizona where they will meet one-on-one with veterans experiencing difficulties receiving care or obtaining benefits through the VA, and constituents experiencing problems with federal agencies.
GIVE VETERANS THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN HEALTH CARE PROVIDER, WITH NO LIMITS ON CHOICE
· Pass the Permanent VA Choice Card Act, legislation that would make permanent the three-year pilot program for the Choice Card, and make all eligible veterans-regardless of where they live-eligible to receive the Choice Card and have the flexibility to access the doctor of their choice.
ENSURE VA HEALTH CARE FOLLOWS PUBLIC HEALTH CARE "BEST PRACTICES"
· Ensure that Arizona VA hospitals undergo peer-review from the best providers in health care including the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and others.
· Change laws to enable the VA to quickly remove employees who engage in misconduct.
· Decentralize VA authority and change its pay structure to ensure it retains quality physicians.
PROVIDE VETERANS WITH FULL SPECTRUM MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
· Ensure a full spectrum of mental health care is available for veterans when they need it -from emergency to long-term care.
· Change the culture at the VA so that it proactively partners with - rather than avoids - local medical specialists and veterans groups on suicide prevention.
· Provide professional mental health care services to veterans outside of the traditional VA hospital setting.
· Ensure that the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which Senator McCain originally sponsored, is fully and effectively implemented.