FORT SMITH – U.S. Senator John Boozman heard from Arkansas veterans on Wednesday regarding their experiences with the Veterans Choice Program. Boozman hosted listening sessions in Fort Smith, Mena and Hope to gather input on the strengths and weaknesses of the program established in 2014.
Veterans shared their concerns regarding eligibility criteria, the appointment scheduling process, how their health records are handled and if they are experiencing unexpected expenses for their medical care.
The Choice program gives many veterans access to care outside of the VA system when they live too far from a VA facility or cannot get timely care for their medical needs. Overall, the program has been viewed as a positive step in the right direction. In Arkansas, more than 4500 community providers have been added to the Choice network and over 12,000 individual veterans were served between July 2015 and November 2016. However, Boozman believes that additional reforms are needed to ensure the system is providing all veterans with access to quality care, including those in rural areas of Arkansas.
Last week, Congress took the first step to expand upon and improve the Choice program with the passage of S.544, the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act. Boozman was an original cosponsor of this legislation. In addition to extending the current the legislation seeks to cut red tape so that veterans can access care more quickly.
“I am grateful for the input from all of the veterans who attended our listening sessions today,” Boozman said. “We started on the right path with the Choice Program but I believe we need to put greater emphasis on outcomes and quality of care. Hearing directly from the veterans today helped me narrow in on the problems we need to address as we continue to improve veteran health care.”
Boozman was joined in the listening sessions by Col. Nathaniel Todd, the Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA), Gina Chandler from ADVA, several County Veterans Service officers, and representatives from local veterans organizations.