Burr, Tillis push to reform VA program highlighted in WBTV investigation

Published: Mar. 9, 2016 at 9:38 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2016 at 10:39 PM EST
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(Nick Ochsner | WBTV)
(Nick Ochsner | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) joined with others in the Senate to propose new legislation aimed at making improvements to a program designed to speed up veterans' access to specialty care.

The VA Choice Program was created in 2014 after it was revealed that some veterans were waiting months for specialty care at VA hospitals.

Under the program, veterans who would have to wait more than 30 days to see a specialist are eligible to see a private physician.

While that program has opened up faster care to many veterans, an On Your Side investigation uncovered problems with the program, with some veterans waiting months or years to be treated.

On Monday, Burr and a group of other senators introduced the Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016.

The legislation would make the VA Choice Program permanent and aims to speed up access to care by streamlining and combining the various programs currently used to send patients for private care.

WBTV INVESTIGATION: Veterans, families call WBTV for help with delays at VA medical centers

"My hope is that, one, we can consolidate a myriad of existing programs at the VA and streamline the process to where it's understandable by veterans and understandable by private care providers," Burr said.

The legislation would also require the VA to create a new system to reimburse private medical providers who treat patients through the Choice Program.

Currently, many medical practices in the state have stopped accepting Choice patients because they do not receive payment for treatment provided.

Veterans would also be able to choose medical providers closer to home if the legislation were passed.

"At the end of the day, they should be all about quality outcomes and you can only achieve that through having options that veterans can choose," Burr said. "I'm confident that there's a commitment up here that we fulfill the promise and commitment we made to veterans: the highest quality care possible."

As Burr and Tillis worked to move their new proposal through Congress, VA leaders spent Wednesday afternoon opening up a new outpatient treatment facility in Charlotte to veterans.

The facility opens to patients in April but was open today for veterans to be able to take a tour and sign up for care.

Representative Robert Pittenger (R-9th) was on hand Wednseday. He worked to help make sure CATS put a bus stop at the facility.

Pittenger echoed Burr's comments that more must be done to help veterans.

"I think it's been dismal," Pittenger said. "we haven't had the type of management that's needed overall."