Know your rights: the Choice Act
After a nationwide scandal over extreme backlogs at the Veteran’s Administration came to a head earlier this year when then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May, access of care for our nation’s veterans has become a major focal point in the political theater as well as the mainstream media. The scandal revealed that veterans were waiting hundreds of days for proper care, including those with severe chronic illnesses. And while investigators did not conclude that any deaths were a direct result of the delays, a number of veterans did die while waiting for treatment.
Current VA Secretary Bob McDonald, whom Obama appointed in July to fill Shinseki’s place, is already reporting improvements within the VA, much of which, to be fair, was done before he assumed office. According to the VA, the office has reduced the claims backlog 60 percent from its peak in March 2013, and veterans are now waiting 119 fewer days on average than they did in 2013.
To further address the deep problems within the VA, on Aug. 7 President Obama signed into law the Veteran’s Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which the VA began implementing on Nov. 5. The Choice Act aims to improve access to care by contracting with two private healthcare entities to help administer the VA program. While the bill is temporary and expires when funds run out, it allows veterans to use community hospitals that are more easily accessible to them, whether that means in distance or appointment availability.
If you or your loved one were enrolled in the VA health care system as of Aug. 1, you are eligible for one of the Act’s “Choice Cards,” which enables you to visit a community hospital in your area. The first cards were sent to those living more than 40 miles away from VA hospitals, and the second batch will be sent to those who are waiting for an appointment for more than 30 days. The last batch will be sent to the remaining eligible veterans.
While hearing loss isn’t generally a life-threatening condition, it’s still a serious one that warrants prompt attention. That's why it’s important to understand the Choice Act and your rights as a VA patient.
Because nearly 10 percent of the disabilities for returning soldiers are sensory difficulties, the department works with a number of veterans who suffer from hearing loss from being in active duty.
While the VA might still have some work to do if they hope to fully restore the public’s trust, they have composed a bill of patient rights detailing your rights as well as the rights of your family members. Some of those rights include:
- A well-lit environment free of excess noise
- Reasonable attempts to accommodate your personal lifestyle such as sleep cycles and food preferences
- Free and private access to communication methods such as telephones and mail
- Full information about your VA benefits, written in an understandable way
- Involvement in the selection of your care providers
- Notification of all possible outcomes and risks of your care
- The right to name a “health care agent” if you are unable to make decisions on your own
If you believe any of your rights have been violated or denied, and the medical team has failed to adequately address your concerns, you have a couple options available to you. For issues regarding health care quality and safety, contact the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality Monitoring at 1-800-994-6610. To learn more about benefits available to veterans, visit http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/.