GRANITE FALLS, N.C. (WBTV) – A local veteran was forced to wait roughly two months to be seen by a specialist paid for by the VA, despite the implementation of a new program meant to speed veteran’s access to outside care when the VA is unable to see them quickly.
The Mission Act was implemented earlier this year as a replacement for the VA Choice program.
Both programs were created with a goal of providing veterans faster access to specialists outside of the VA when wait times at VA medical facilities are too long.
For years, WBTV chronicled problems with the VA Choice program, including issues with private providers getting authorization to schedule appointments and, later, getting paid by the VA for treating veterans.
Those issues led to many providers backing out of the VA Choice program. Now, under the new Mission Act, veterans face a similar shortage of outside providers available to treat them.
The New York Times detailed the issue in a recent story. The company hired to administer the Mission Act care told Congress it does not have a provider network large enough to cover the number of veterans anticipated to need outside care.
Greg Annas called WBTV out of frustration that slow help from the VA clinic in Hickory had led to a worsening of a urinary tract infection.
Medical records show doctors at the Hickory VA clinic first diagnosed his UTI in February and continued to monitor the infection. By April, records show, the infection had gotten worse. Doctors did an MRI and, ultimately, referred Annas to see an outside specialist through the Mission Act.
Annas’ records show the doctor made the referral for Annas to see an outside specialist on April 23. That referral was acknowledged nearly a week later, on April 29, records show, and wasn’t received by the company that administers community care through the Mission Act for another week after that, on May 7.
The records show an appointment wasn’t scheduled for Annas to be seen through the Mission Act community care program for more than a month after that. A note dated June 18 shows he was scheduled to be seen the following week, on June 25.
By that time, though, Annas had already paid out of pocket to see a private provider.
Notes in Annas’ medical records show that, while he waited to have an appointment scheduled with the private specialist, he called multiple times with complaints about his condition worsening.
Annas now has a catheter and is scheduled to have surgery related to his infection in early December.
“This has really made me sick. I’m sick today with it,” Annas said. “I tried for 13 weeks to get an appointment with a local physician here in town and they kept calling me saying they couldn’t find one, they couldn’t find one.”
Despite the clear timeline painted in Annas’ medical records, a spokeswoman for the VA denied any delay in Annas’ care.
The spokeswoman refused to answer calls from WBTV for this story but sent a brief statement.
“After a clinical review, our records do not reflect a delay of care,” Amber Brown, a spokeswoman for the Asheville VA Medical Center, said.
Stories from veterans like Annas run counter to the promise of faster care that has been promised by members of Congress and President Donald Trump in the wake of the Mission Act being passed.
“They can go out, get a doctor, we pay the bill, and they don’t have to wait six weeks, four weeks, two weeks. We had people waiting in line, they weren’t very sick. By the time they saw the doctor, they were terminally ill,” Trump said at a recent rally in Tupelo, Miss.
But that’s exactly what happened to Annas.
“It’s the system that’s screwed up, that’s broke, that needs to be fixed,” Annas said. “I could get you 25 to 30 veterans by tomorrow morning that would sit right here in this yard and tell you that they have the same problem that I have.”