EXCLUSIVE: Marine Vet Waited 120 Days To Be Seen Via Choice Program

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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As the Department of Veterans Affairs moves to reform the troubled Choice Program, a new video shows that Marine veteran John Byrnes not only waited 90 days to see a provider, but then waited an additional 120 days to see a doctor through the Choice Program.

The video, released by the veterans’ advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), highlights the story of Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran John Byrnes. He had never needed to use VA benefits before, but at the end of 2014, he went to see a doctor.

After waiting 90 days while in pain to see a provider and getting a recommendation for a surgery, Byrnes was enrolled in the Choice Program, which is ostensibly supposed to help speed up the process when wait times exceed 30 days. But that’s not what happened. He instead waited even longer—more than 120 days—before he was able to see a doctor through the Choice Program.

Byrnes, who works as the North Carolina Coalitions Director for CVA, said that his treatment at the VA was “dehumanizing.”

“The feeling you get when the government treats you like a pawn in their health care system rather than like a veteran who has served his country and has earned this health care is just terrible – it’s dehumanizing,” Byrnes said.

“It makes you feel like a number. The only adequate solution, the only thing that gives veterans real choice is the ability for them to decide when they leave the VA system and to take those benefits with them to the private sector.”

“There’s no choice in the Choice Card Program.”

Byrnes has a long history of service in the military. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1991 and became a corporal after four years. In 2000, Byrnes joined the New York Army National Guard and was at ground zero for several works helping with security and logistics. He also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans by nature of being both Americans and veterans certainly deserve better health care than they’re getting from the VA today,” Byrnes added.

The VA sent a proposal to Congress on Monday to reform the Choice Program in recognition of many of the criticisms from advocacy organizations. This proposal eliminates the rule that a veteran has to wait either 30 days or be located at least 40 miles from a facility before they can enroll in the program, which allows veterans the ability to get care outside the VA system. Shulkin first announced in February that he wanted an end to the 30-day/40-mile rule.

Veterans can get care from the private sector if they are unable to receive an appointment within a “clinically acceptable time period” or if both the veteran and physician believe the veteran would be best served by the private sector, according to the new proposal.

However, the largest federal workers union, the American Federation of Government Employees, believes the reform plan is “a total dismantling of the department,” as it apparently takes resources from the VA and hands it to the private sector.

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