Among America’s greatest strengths are the women and men who put their lives on the line to defend our country. From the 18-year-old high school graduate who just enlisted, to all veterans who depend on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for health care and benefits, we have an obligation to serve those who serve us.
In 2014, Congress passed by overwhelming votes the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to solve some of the well-publicized challenges that veterans had been experiencing in accessing Veterans Affairs health-care services. Commonly referred to as the Veterans Choice Program, it was designed to enable eligible veterans to receive primary care, inpatient and outpatient specialty care and mental-health care from non-VA health-care providers. The idea was to help solve the health-care access challenge by giving our veterans more options for their care.
Unfortunately, this program — viewed with great promise by those who have faced unacceptable waiting times for needed medical care — hasn’t quite worked as intended. Access-related issues continue for too many veterans.
Providence Healthcare Network, part of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system, has over 200 veterans who continue to serve our community as part of TEAMPROVIDENCE. We understand that many of them also experience these struggles first-hand. As a veteran myself, I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve my country in the U.S. Navy. I served alongside many brave women and men who made personal sacrifices in order to defend and protect our nation. I am grateful to those who made that sacrifice and to those who continue to make that sacrifice today, affording us freedom, security and democracy.
As both a hospital administrator and 10-year disabled veteran, I understand the importance of receiving quality, expert health care and the frustrations many veterans experience as they are unable to access care in a timely manner. I am proud to say Providence, along with more than 2,000 Ascension sites of care, is stepping up to help ensure that service members, veterans and their families can connect to resources that enhance their well-being.
Why are we getting involved? Caring for our nation’s veterans is one of the most important things we can do. Our mission calls us to provide compassionate, personalized care for all with special attention to the poor and vulnerable. Right now, no population is more vulnerable and more deserving of our compassion and support than our nation’s veterans.
Our veterans deserve the best care we can offer and that’s not the sole responsibility of just the VA system — it’s the responsibility of all caregivers, whether government or private, for profit or nonprofit. Through the Veterans Choice Program, we can work together to expand the number of health care options for our nation’s veterans, ensuring more timely access to high-quality care.
To help ensure the most effective service on a sustained basis, Ascension has organized a system-wide monitoring effort that features a help line to quickly identify and address any access issues that may arise and share best practices across our health system and with the VA.
Providence is purposefully entering into a complex program with significant challenges. But the women and men who have sacrificed so much for us deserve access to high-quality health care. Working together, we have every confidence that our Veterans Choice public-private partnership will advance care for our military veterans and ultimately provide ideas on how to improve the delivery of health care in the general population as well.
Steve Province is the chief operating officer of Providence Healthcare Network and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.