Skirting Around VA Wait Times

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Randy Livingston

CARTERVILLE -- Some veterans can't afford to wait for care from the VA, or they don't want to. So they take other avenues to see a doctor. There are a couple of other options for veterans if they can afford to use them. Often times, if the medical situation is serious enough, those options are better than waiting for the VA.

You don't have to go far to find veterans who've had to cope with the VA system. In the engineering department at WSIL-TV, more than 40 years of military service is represented.
 
Chief Engineer Pat Victoria says he never really had a problem with VA medical service, until he grew older and started dealing with more serious problems.
 
"I had three hernia operations, but I didn't have them at the VA. I had them out of the VA ( ... ) Because it was quicker to get done," he explains.
 
Victoria says it was only possible because he has health insurance through his employer. Same is true for engineer Danny Chamness, who suffered a broken collarbone six years ago and was not even given a timetable for when he could be seen.
 
"Rather than wait the length of time it took me to get an appointment there, I found a local surgical, Southern Illinois Surgical, who took both the insurance here at work and my Tricare," says Chamness.
 
He and Victoria say Tricare is the only other option for veterans. It's an insurance program for active and retired military service members and their families. But there are different tiers for the program, which can cost more. And like Medicare and Medicaid, it can often be hard to find a physician who will take their insurance. Chamness's wife found that out at Heartland Regional several years ago.
 
"She was taken there in an emergency and they flat refused to bill Tricare."
 
Victoria says when he signed up for the army in 1964, he was promised a lot of things, including good health care. He says he's still waiting for the government to keep its promise.
 
Late Thursday afternoon, U.S. Senators announced an agreement to expand medical care for veterans. The bill would allow vets facing long waits or those who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic, to use private doctors enrolled as Medicare providers.
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