Program allowing veterans to see private health care providers extended

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KERNERSVILLE, N.C. -- A program that allows veterans to see private health care providers, instead of doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will stick around a while longer.

President Donald Trump signed an extension to the Veterans Choice Program on Wednesday.

FOX8 talked to Triad veterans who have mixed thoughts on the program's future. They said it's good to have more options for doctors and health care, but the program has some flaws, and many of the want to see a long-term solution.

"Once I was in there, it took five minutes, but waiting is what took forever because it's so backed up," veteran Michael Hoeft said.

It's a common complaint heard about the VA.

The Veterans Choice Program was supposed to solve that wait-time problem. Congress created the law three years ago after the VA scandal in 2014, when the VA was accused of lying about how long veterans waited to see doctors.

The program was set to expire in August 2017 or when the $10 billion allotted to the program ran out.

Congress passed a bipartisan bill to extend the program while there's still funding.

The program gives veterans the choice to see doctors outside the VA, but only under certain conditions. Those include if a veteran lives more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or if a veteran can't schedule an appointment at the VA within 30 days.

"The idea of having a choice is a positive concept, however, it has to work, and unfortunately it has not," said Bob Uber, a veteran.

With this system, some veterans still end up waiting.

"There is a lot of work that still needs to be done in order to make it usable for the average veteran," Uber said.

The extension addresses some of those problems. Before, non-VA doctors couldn't even see veterans' medical records. The new law allows the VA to share them.

The law also makes the VA the primary payer for non-VA appointments and procedures, instead of doctors or hospitals waiting to get reimbursed.

"The goal, which was a campaign promise of Trump, is to fix the problem, and so the goal is simply to get veterans timely care at the best possible level," Uber said.

Veterans like James Driskell say the Veterans Choice Program has some inherent flaws.

"Even though it was a hasty put together, you can still evolve a program as long as you keep it in play," Driskell said. "If we end it, it'll never grow to anything, so I think extensions are good and I think a final, agreeable program needs to be permanent."

He says it's a good step toward the long-term solution he wants to see -- an overhaul of the VA that's focused on quick, quality care.

"It needs to happen. It's not a want, it's a need," Driskell said.

Trump plans to hold a news conference next Thursday to talk in more detail about veterans' issues.