Delegation Comments on Alaska Changes within VA Choice Program: VA Will Utilize Local Staff to Schedule Appointments


The Department of Veterans Affairs has informed Alaska’s congressional delegation that as of July 10, 2016, the scheduling for Choice Act medical appointments in Alaska will revert back to being handled by local VA integrated care personnel, instead of its current practice of outsourcing scheduling requests to contractor-operated call centers in the Lower 48. The delegation has been demanding this change after hearing from numerous Alaska veterans who have been ill-served by the new VA system established after the Choice Act was passed in 2014.

“I am pleased that after numerous hearings in D.C. and in Alaska, the VA is finally working to tailor the ‘one-size-fits-none’ Veterans Choice Program, to fit the unique needs of Alaska’s veterans,” Senator Sullivan said. “Importantly, that fix begins with giving Alaskans back more local control over their healthcare. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have been relentless in been pushing senior members of the VA to implement necessary changes to the Choice Act. However, there is still much work to be done and Alaska veterans should know that I will continue to hold the VA's feet to fire until for each and every Alaskan veteran gets the healthcare they were promised and deserve. Our nation owes it to them and I am committed to making sure the VA delivers on that debt.”

“With medical appointments now being handled by local VA personnel, I am confident our veterans will be better served. This is a small but important step toward addressing the failings of the Choice Card,” said Senator Murkowski. “As a member of the VA Appropriations Subcommittee, I obtained language demanding the VA fully reinstate the successful Alaska community care model it maintained before the Choice Act was enacted. Before the Choice program was implemented, local VA employees placed veterans with community providers, maintained the provider relationships, and paid the bills. This announcement fixes part of the problem. The VA proposes to fix one facet of that problem, but provider acceptance of Choice remains problematic. I’m still not sold that the Choice Card provides meaningful choice for Alaska veterans.” 
“The implementation of the VA Choice Program in Alaska was nothing short of disastrous,” said Congressman Don Young. “We’ve heard countless accounts from veterans and VA personnel that our system has left many Alaskans without answers, without access, and without timely and adequate healthcare. This is unacceptable and does not reflect our nation’s solemn commitment to the more than 77,000 veterans who call Alaska home. Although not a silver bullet to the VA’s shortcomings, the Alaska-specific solutions announced today are an important step forward. Having designated scheduling staff in state, rather than staff in the lower 48 without any understanding of Alaska’s size or transportation challenges, works to resolve a major issue we’ve seen in recent years. Both Senators and I are fully committed to ensuring all those that served our nation receive the benefits they earned and are owed.”