VA tackles Choice Act issues with pilot program

The Alaska Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a pilot program aimed at fixing the bugs in the Veteran’s Choice Program.

The Choice Program, which was launched in Alaska last year, is meant to make it easier to connect vets with health services in rural locations like much of Alaska, and the new pilot program was announced at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday. It comes on the heels of meetings held throughout Alaska in August, during which Sen. Dan Sullivan and VA personnel heard exactly what wasn’t working with the Choice Program from veterans.

Many at the hearing held that month in Kenai cited lack of communication between the Choice Program and the rest of the VA, and trouble getting through to Choice Program personnel on the phone as the system’s major flaws. Several vets asserted that getting access to health care was easier before the program was unveiled.

Now, the Alaska Veterans Affairs Healthcare System will attempt to rectify the Choice Program issues by reconnecting Alaska veterans with Alaska VA personnel when scheduling appointments, according to a press release from Sullivan’s office. Phase one of the pilot program is already under way and entails a “virtual” presence of Choice Program staff in Alaska. TriWest Healthcare Alliance, based in Arizona, is a provider tasked with delivering Choice Program services.

“We have already implemented a virtual integration between TriWest and the integrated care service in Anchorage so that there is a direct connection (with) those individuals at VA Alaska,” said VA Assistant Deputy Undersecretary Dr. Thomas Lynch at Tuesday’s hearing.

Phase two involves getting “additional employees and resources” to the Alaska VA, according to the release, and is scheduled to be completed by mid-November. TriWest will recruit seven employees to be stationed at the Alaska VA, Lynch said at the hearing. The Kenai VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic deferred comments on the pilot program to the Alaska VA, and spokesperson Samuel Hudson did not return requests for comment.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com

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