Report: VA may expand options for veterans seeking care at private hospitals

James H. Quillen VA Medical Center

It's a move that could potentially change where veterans seek medical care.

According to a report from the New York Times, President Trump could unveil plans that would loosen restrictions on veterans receiving care from private hospitals and doctors outside of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.

The idea, the report states, is to lessen the burden on VA hospitals around the country.

Vietnam veteran David Carter says he thinks veterans need more options for medical care, but he's been happy with service at James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City.

"I was hesitant to go to the VA for several years because I always thought this was for combat wounded people, people who lost a leg, but turned out I came across several folks that said that's not the case at all," Carter told WCYB.

James H. Quillen VA Medical Center serves around 70,000 veterans every year. Many travel hours, and hundreds of miles, to receive care. Under current VA guidelines, the government will only pay for private care if a VA facility can't see a veteran within 30 days.

According to the VA, the average wait time for a new, primary care patient, in Johnson City is 11 days. The average wait at the Nashville VA Medical Center is 20 days.

James H. Quillen VA Medical Center Director Dean Borsos says additional specialty services are being added in Johnson City, and access for veterans is improving every year.

"We have a robust capability and capacity at James H. Quillen VA Medical Center," Borsos said. "We're a learning organization, striving for continuous process improvement and innovation."

Ballad Health issued this statement regarding the report:

"Ballad health is proud to have a strong and very positive relationship with our local VA, and we're in favor of Congress providing more flexibility for private hospitals and VAs to work together, which will create more access to care for veterans who need it."

In December, the VA distributed a study that found VA mospitals outperform private hospitals in most areas.

Congressman Phil Roe is the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Through a spokeswoman, he declined to comment for this story.

The spokeswoman, representing Republicans on the committee, issued this statement:

"There has not been a change as to how VA is managing the provision of veteran health care both within VA and through its private partners. Generous funding has been allocated for medical care and services to best fit the needs of veterans within VA, and when not available or not in near proximity within the community if the veteran chooses. DoD's Tricare benefit and VA community care are significantly different programs; however, VA is considering similar Tricare-like access standards as a potential determinant of Community Care eligibility. This seems to be common sense approach, but one I hope the committee would review in detail if proposed."

According to the New York Times report, President Trump could unveil the changes in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29.

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