Program created to help veterans is reportedly failing them

Posted: Updated:
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A program created to help veterans is reportedly failing them. And insiders say the Phoenix VA is to blame.

As part of our continuing coverage of alleged gross mismanagement and cover-ups in patient care, new information has surfaced. 

[Click here to view special section of VA Hospital troubles]

A new report from the inside shows nearly 2,000 veterans eligible for care aren't getting it through the Veterans Choice Program. The program is intended by law to allow veterans to go to outside providers and the VA picks up the tab. But the report proves the complete opposite. 

"It's just asinine that in 2016 that this is still happening. That's what the Choice Act brings to the table and that's why we need to give it a fair shake," said prime whistleblower Brandon Coleman. 

The Veterans Choice Summary Report shows more than 1,600 valley veterans who are not getting the care they've been promised. "They're doing everything they can to make sure that veterans don't want use the Choice Program once they're enrolled, but what we're talking about in Phoenix, we can't even get them enrolled," he said.

According to the report, appointments for cardiology, gastroenterology, surgeries and even mental health are not being offered, and not even entered in the system for these eligible veterans. Insiders say part of the problem is that the scheduling department has been under-manned and over-worked for years.

Coleman says the main reason is because the Choice Program is considered competition. 

"They might actually get better care, and if they do, they might not come back to the VA and they could loose funding because of it," Coleman said. "The VA is sabotaging the program," Coleman said.

Veterans Choice is a program Senator John McCain strongly supports. Just last week, the Senator called for a Department of Justice investigation into alleged criminal acts at the Phoenix VA that I brought to his attention. He's now sifting through the latest report.

"Bringing issues like that to our leaders, we get more done between you and I than the Phoenix VA is willing to do under federal law. It's just sad; it's shameful," said Coleman.

Senator McCain's office released the following statement: “Senator McCain believes the incredibly high number of veterans who are unable to get appointments at the Phoenix VA within 30 days and the VA’s failure to properly implement the VA Choice Card Program, which is designed to allow veterans to have the flexibility to see doctors in their communities, are unacceptable. Despite the VA’s unwillingness to effectively implement the Choice Card, we’ve seen that when executed correctly, this program is improving care for our veterans – over 5,000 veterans per day are now able to see a doctor sooner because of the VA Choice Card. Senator McCain is calling on the VA to correct these serious implementation problems with the VA Choice Card so that every veteran receives the help they need now. 

“If you are a veteran encountering problems receiving care, or if you know a veteran who is having similar difficulty, please contact Senator McCain's office at 602-952-2410 or here. In addition, if you have information concerning mismanagement, or waste, fraud, and abuse within our VA system, please contact Senator McCain’s office at 602-952-2410 or here.”

Wednesday evening, we received this statement from Paul Coupaud of the Phoenix VA Health Care System:

"Thanks for your contact and your efforts to help us provide better care to Veterans!  We’re continually working to minimize the Veterans Choice List and have processes in place to improve access to care through this valuable option for Veterans. It’s important to note though that it’s a requirement of being on the VCL that a Veteran already has an appointment within the VA – they’ve just opted to get an earlier appointment through Choice.  No Veteran is going without care.  Also, these are routine appointments – all critical, urgent or STAT requirements are processed the same day.  

Currently, the Phoenix Community Care program leadership provides staff with weekly training on all aspects of care in the community. The Community Care is in the process of recruiting to fill existing vacancies.  The Phoenix VA Health Care System and TriWest work in close collaboration and have a strong partnership based on our joint commitment to ensuring that all Veterans receive care that is timely, easy to access, and top quality. In fact, starting in March, the Phoenix VA Health Care System partnered with TriWest to embed three TriWest staff members in our facility to help expedite Community Care coordination and address Veteran concerns."

Paul Coupaud, Ed.D., USAF Ret.
Public Affairs Officer  | Acting Chief, Medical Media
Phoenix VA Health Care System

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