For too long, tens of thousands of veterans who reside in South Texas and Rio Grande Valley have had to travel six or more hours round-trip to receive their care from the Audie Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio.
In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress have responded by establishing community care programs to mitigate this problem and other obstacles to care.
Two of these – patient centered community care and veterans’ choice programs – are administered in Texas by a third party contractor known as TriWest Healthcare Alliance.
Since the inception of these community care programs, I have been pleased to witness the participation of numerous physicians, hospitals, and medical practices in this region who have agreed to partner with VA and TriWest, so veterans could receive quality care closer to home.
However, many of those providers have expressed their frustration – sometimes their anger – with difficulties that impede their ability to serve our veterans.
Most importantly, our Congressional delegation heard from the veterans themselves that these programs are not serving them as intended. So, I contacted VA Secretary Bob McDonald and TriWest CEO Dave McIntyre and we got to work.
Both Dave and his team from TriWest, as well as Dr. Gene Migliaccio and Joe Enderle from VA, have come down to Deep South Texas several times to meet with local veterans, the commanders of veterans’ posts, as well as providers to ensure that veterans in our region are being well served by the VA’s community care system.
Let me take you back just a few months. It was in June, 2016, that all parties committed to a 90-day strategic plan to identify and address these issues. Since then, we have made tremendous progress.
Because our health care providers are now being paid for their services in a more timely manner, the VA community care system will be able to retain their participation – I am talking about hospitals and doctors – thus strengthening the network of care that is available to veterans.
Additionally, we have identified a number of areas where we can boost coordination between VA, TriWest, and the community providers.
To this end, we have created a simple one-page guide to VA community care programs that we will be sending to providers in South Texas. It contains information on authorizations, claims, and medical documentation, as we all points of contact.
By clearing up the existing confusion, this will prevent bureaucratic obstacles and streamline care for South Texas and Rio Grande Valley veterans.
In closing, I wish to thank each of my partners here today for their vitally important contributions to this effort. In short time, we have made some significant strides, and we remain committed to working with VA and TriWest to continue improving the level of medical service for our veteran population.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary was made by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa at a news conference held at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen on Monday, September 19, 2016. The images accompanying this story were taken by Shon Gonzalez of the Rio Grande Guardian.