Veterans and officials in Montana are expressing frustration with recent changes in the veteran health care system, which they say have backfired in rural states.
The Veterans Choice Act became law last year and was meant to shorten waits for doctor visits and make health care more accessible.
The problem is that providers aren’t signing onto the program, said regional Veterans Affairs hospital assistant director Rebecca Keough.
About 25 veterans attended a Thursday night meeting at the Helena library meant to help explain the law.
One veteran said he was perplexed about the VA’s insistence that he travel to Salt Lake City to see a specialist instead of going to the local specialist he’s been seeing for years. Others brought up the fact that Fort Harrison doesn’t currently have an on-staff gynecologist, part of what female veterans see as an ongoing lack of attention to women’s health issues.
Officials say they are currently recruiting for the Fort Harrison gynecologist position.
Army veteran Carole Kiley stood up at a similar gathering a year ago to ask the VA about providing help for women who were sexually assaulted while serving. On Thursday, she addressed the panel again and said she started a support group when the VA stopped offering one last summer.
“Men seem to get the help they need. We don’t,” she said.
VA Montana Health Care System director John Ginnity said higher-ups in Washington, D.C., have told him it will take time to work out kinks in rural states.
“Montana is different. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “Even in the VA we’re frustrated with the process.”
According to Ginnity, it’s not just a lack of providers in the program but a statewide problem of access to doctors, especially specialists.
The VA Montana Health Care System is responsible for health care for 47,000 actively enrolled veterans.