TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – One of the veterans who helped write the law aimed at allowing Veterans Affairs patients to use private sector health care under certain circumstances is frustrated and angry at how the regulations have been implemented.
Air Force Veteran Darin Selnick was part of the team that wrote the 2019 Mission Act that was a potential improvement of the 2014 Choice Act. Choice was prompted by the Phoenix VA scandal involving more than 200 veterans who died across the country while they were waiting for appointments.
Under the Mission Act, veterans can get community care if their wait times are longer than 20 days for primary, mental and extended care and 28 days for specialty care. Driving distances of greater than 60 minutes is another reason a veteran would be allowed to go outside the VA system.
But Selnick believes a lack of wait time data transparency is a potential clue that another scandal could be brewing.
“We don’t know how big this problem is, but I hear from a lot of veterans who are not being offered community care,” Selnick said. “It does make me angry because this is about veterans’ health care and making sure they get the health care they need in a timely manner.”
Rafael Techera is one of several bay area veterans who contacted 8 On Your Side with local community care issues.
It was about 14 years ago in war-torn Afghanistan when Techera first injured his back while training with a 120-pound ruck sack. An unexpected flare up sent him to the Haley VA Medical Center in September.
But several injections over the next five months did not relieve the pain, leaving the 36-year old bed-ridden most of the time.
“I was considering killing myself every day that I was in pain,” Techera said. “Every single day that I was in pain. It was that bad.”
He was finally approved for community care in January and, after three appointments in the private sector, he said he has seen improvements with the injury.
But he believes it took too long to get him the health care he earned as a soldier.
“You’re talking about a five-month wait for something that I desperately needed,” Techera said. “That’s completely unreasonable. There should be other options for vets.”
Selnick, who works with Concerned Veterans for America, said he hears similar complaints from across the country.
“I have internal people inside the VA telling me that there’s a concentrated effort to deny veterans community care because frankly, every veteran wants to go,” Selnick said. “In terms of the intent, in terms of good faith, in terms of transparency, it’s very troublesome and it makes it hard to do the due diligence and oversight.”
Haley VA spokesperson Kimberly Antos did not directly address Selnick’s criticism but said the facility’s focus is “providing world-class health care to our veterans.”
“The Mission Act enables the VA to make a broader range of excellent care options available through community providers when Veterans are eligible for community care,” Antos said in an email.
Selnick said his organization will continue to push for transparency from the VA.
“Whether it’s waiting too long or driving too far, it should be [the veteran’s] choice,” Selnick said. “And by not giving them their choice, you are subverting the law.”
In the Bay Pines and Haley health care networks, just over 125,000 veterans were offered community care last year, representing about seven percent of the total appointments scheduled. Just over 82,000 patients opted to use outside health care.