GOP senator: Key VA program a 'systemic failure'

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Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkVA chief 'deeply' regrets if Disney comment offended vets Senate GOP gears up for fight over Gitmo transfers Duckworth: VA secretary's Disneyland comment 'tone-deaf' MORE (R-Ill.) wants to know how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will fix a key health program, calling its implementation a "systemic failure." 
 
"I consistently hear reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs is delaying the process of veterans’ requests to use the Choice Act, delaying the approval of provider participation in Choice, and delaying payments to participating providers," he wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald released Friday.
 
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Under the Choice Act, veterans who can't get an appointment within 30 days are supposed to be able to use the Veterans Choice List, which gives them access to private non-VA care. 
 
But Kirk pointed to a VA Office of the Inspector General report released Thursday on a Colorado Springs, Colo., facility. The report found that out of 288 veterans who had wait times of more than 30 days at the facility, all 288 were either not added to the Veterans Choice List or were added later than they should have been. 
  
Kirk said that he wants to know "how the VA plans to address these issues and ensure that all veterans have access to the Choice Act envisioned by Congress with a comprehensive provider network," including addressing reports that the VA isn't providing "timely payments" to healthcare providers under the Choice program.
 
The VA noted in the OIG report that it's taken steps to address the findings. 
 
The VA's Veterans Health Administration has been repeatedly under the congressional spotlight since the department faced a months-long scandal over allegations that VA officials manipulated appointment wait time data to downplay how long veterans were waiting for healthcare. 
 
"Given the VHA's demonstrated inability to provide even basic care, let alone comprehensive services, I find it particularly disappointing that VHA continues to stymie the private sector's attempts to address veteran patient needs," he added in his letter to McDonald.
 
Kirk is the latest lawmaker who supported the Choice Act — formally known as the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act — but has voiced concern about its implementation.