By Megan Molnar and Laura MecklerVeterans Choice is an idea that seems to be gaining traction across the country as the Trump administration seeks to change the way people receive medical care.
It’s a program in which those who have lost their jobs and dependents receive a tax credit, and those who can’t get insurance can opt out and be reimbursed for a portion of their costs.
The program has been on the rise for a few years now, with the Veterans Affairs Department spending $3 billion to expand it to 20 states.
In recent months, a number of states have begun to implement similar programs, including Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Montana.
The VA has touted the program as helping people stay afloat while also providing a much-needed income to veterans.
“This is a significant step forward for the VA’s Veterans Choice program and is a crucial step forward in transitioning veterans into the workforce,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin in a statement last month.
According to a study by the National Institute of Veterans and Military Families, Veterans Choice has helped more than 6.6 million veterans and their dependents save more than $4.4 billion since it was first implemented in 2015.
In 2017, the program received $4 billion in funding from the Veterans Health Administration, and another $1.5 billion in 2018.
But some critics say the program is just another step toward the VA being the health insurance provider for the military and is not enough.
“This idea is so, so poorly thought out.
It’s so, far removed from the real world,” said Daniel Webster, the president of the National Veterans Coalition, a national veterans advocacy group.
“It’s so poorly conceived, so disconnected from reality.”
In 2018, Webster also called the VA a “shadow VA” and said the program’s goal is to make it more profitable to keep veterans on the rolls and more affordable to taxpayers.
“We are talking about an organization that is supposed to serve the American taxpayer and the veterans, not an organization for private profit,” Webster said.
Vets Choice isn’t the only VA program that is gaining traction.
Veterans Benefits Administration (VA) is also looking at a similar program that would be designed to encourage veterans to opt out of coverage, according to a recent report from The Hill.
But some say that the VA isn’t delivering on its promises.
“I don’t think that there is a Veterans Choice plan in place, I think that the program isn’t being delivered, and I think the VA needs to do a better job in terms of how it’s running the program,” said Michael DeCarlo, an attorney with the National Service Organization.
“They need to make sure that the veterans get access to that [care],” he added.
“Otherwise it just doesn’t seem to be delivering on what the VA has promised to do.”
For veterans like Michael DeCardo, a California resident who has served in the Army for 20 years, getting out of VA coverage could be a huge blow.
“It would be very, very difficult to get out of it, because I can’t pay my bills,” he said.
“And then I don’t have my pension, so I just don’t qualify for Social Security.”
He’s hopeful that the Veterans Choice Program will help him get out.
“If I can get out and I have some money saved up, and it will help me save up for college, it would be wonderful,” he told WLAF-TV.
“But I can understand that if I have no savings, then I’m going to be a bit frustrated.”
For the most part, veterans are happy with the VA program.
But it’s not enough to say that it’s working.
According to the Veterans Benefits Administration, veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans’ Choice Program make up the largest group of those who opt out.
But for many veterans, the benefits are just not there.
Some veterans say they are frustrated by the VA and that veterans are being treated like second-class citizens.
“The VA’s not making any money out of these programs,” said Matthew H. Waggoner, a veteran of the Vietnam War who is now a licensed health care practitioner.
“You don’t see vets getting medical care for a living.”
Veterans are also angry with the fact that VA officials are not doing enough to improve the process to opt-out.
There are currently more than 100 VA offices across the United States that have been opened for enrollment, but many are understaffed and run by people with little experience with veterans’ health care, according the American Veterans Association.
“For the first time in a long time, there’s not one VA office that’s running like a business,” said veteran Tom Fagan.
“And for people who are eligible, we’re still in the dark,” he added, referring to how the VA is offering veterans health care in some places but not others.