Veterans Choice: Making It Work

Congress enacted the Veterans Choice program in 2014 to speed up the time it took for veterans to get care. It came in the form of a $16 billion influx to the department of Veterans Affairs. The program allows veterans to work with a third-party contractor to make appointments outside of the VA if a health-care appointment cannot be provided within 30 days, or if they live more than 40 miles from the closest VA medical facility.

In April 2017, the program was extended to provide funding past the August expiration date.

An analysis conducted by NPR revealed that, overall, wait times did not improve after implementation of Veterans Choice. In this series, we explore a view from the Midwest as it relates to how Veterans Choice was communicated to veterans and how it has been received by those seeking care in northern Illinois.

Hines/Provided -- Madison/Sue Stephens/WNIJ

One of the key participants in the Choice Program is regional hospitals. We continue our examination of this program by talking with managers and administrators at two facilities serving veterans in northern Illinois.

The Choice Program is designed to help veterans who are trying to receive specialist care that is either too far away, or the wait time for an appointment is too long. Veterans interested in the program talk to either their primary doctors or local veterans assistance center. These people then refer the veterans to a regional VA hospital.

Susan Stephens

We continue our series “Veterans Choice: Making It Work," with a look at Veterans Choice at the local level.

Depending on where they live, veterans in northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin going to a VA hospital will end up either at Hines Hospital in Chicago, Middleton Memorial Hospital in Madison, or the Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Veterans Choice is a federal program intended to reduce the length of waiting times for medical appointments. We continue our series, “Veterans Choice: Making it Work” by hearing from the people these benefits were designed to help.

There are more than 20,000,000 military veterans in the U.S. More than 700,000 of them live in Illinois. Their health-care needs can be more complicated than the needs of civilians, with exposure to war-zone toxins, complex physical injuries, and the trauma of combat.  

Susan Stephens

Earlier this year, NPR analyzed the length of wait times for veterans to get appointments and treatment at Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Over the next few days, you will hear a Midwestern perspective on a federal program trying to improve veterans care.