Despite billions, delays still hamper veteran’s medical care

Veteran Louis Salvato has waited months for the new Veterans Choice program to get him an appointment to see doctors.

SPRING HILL, Fla. (WFLA) — Louis Salvato served his country as a Marine from 1969 to 1971.  Now, 66 years old and living in Spring Hill, he is suffering from liver destroying Hepatitis C.

“It’s only going to get harder and harder to treat and the longer it waits, how much liver am I going to have left?” he asked.

Louis is enrolled in V.A.’s Veterans Choice program.  Rather than trekking all the way to Tampa’s James A. Haley V.A. hospital, he can seek treatment from private doctors closer to his home.

“They’re supposed to give you an appointment, get you in within 30 days,” he added.

The Veterans Choice program was passed into law after Congress learned veterans died waiting for medical appointments and that V.A. administrators falsified records to show the system was seeing patients faster than it really was.

The government poured $10 billion of your tax dollars into the Veterans Choice program last year. Health Net Federal Services administers the program in this half of the country.  The company recently opened an office in Hillsborough County.

“They’re actually taking longer than if you just went right thru the V.A.  The V.A. gets you an appointment faster than them,” Louis said.  According to Louis, he’s waited since November for the V.A. and Health Net to approve appointments with doctors for his Hepatitis.  He shows up for appointments only to learn they have not been approved,  resulting in time-consuming unproductive telephone calls to the Veterans Choice program.

“They put you on hold, they’ve got to look it up in the computer, Oh yeah, well this went out, but we don’t know what happened, somebody dropped the ball and then you start all over again,” Louis added.

While it has experienced some success, the V.A. admits the system is too complicated and needs streamlining.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson points out the V.A. provides quality medical care but for whatever reason it just can’t cut through its own bureaucracy.

“The V.A. just seems to have in their genes this incapability of streamlining the system,” Senator Nelson stated.

Since the V.A. rolled out the Choice program in 2015, the number of veterans waiting more than 30 days for an appointment has actually grown from 300 to more than 500,000.

“That’s what they were funded for, that’s their job to get you in there and they’re not doing it,” Louis said.  8 On Your Side contacted Health Net.  It put us on hold for several minutes, said it would get back to us, and has not.

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