Enough is enough: Trump gave veterans real and permanent choice
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It’s been more than a year since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE ushered in the greatest improvement to veteran health care since World War II, and the media still refuse to credit him with this accomplishment.

Reporters are playing word games instead of reporting the facts, and are failing to tell the public what millions of veterans know: the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has never worked better, in part because President Trump gave veterans the real, permanent choice of using private health care providers.

Here are the facts.

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In the wake of the prior administration’s VA wait-time scandal, a frustrated Congress authorized a temporary program that allowed some veterans to see doctors outside VA. It was called the Veterans Choice Program.

The program was limited to veterans who were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment, or those that lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility or faced similar travel burdens.

The program never solved the wait-time problem at VA, and instead, unfortunately created new hurdles for veterans seeking care in the community. In a 2017 report, VA’s Office of Inspector General found veterans had to overcome “several barriers” in order to access care outside VA. These included “cumbersome authorization and scheduling procedures and inadequate provider networks.”

In the first 11 months of the Choice Program, VA authorized about 283,500 appointments for veterans outside VA, and barely half of those appointments took place by the end of those 11 months.

Compare those results to the MISSION Act, which President Trump signed in order to fix these problems. The MISSION Act created the Veterans Community Care program, which is permanent and more comprehensive than the Veterans Choice Program. It allows Veterans to elect to receive care at non-VA facilities when they aren’t close to a VA facility, have to wait too long for VA care, or when it’s in their best medical interest.

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That’s a critical difference. The MISSION Act signed by Trump put veterans at the center of their care for the first time in history, allowing them to elect to receive outside expertise when they need it and improving their health outcomes.

Even better, the MISSION Act actually works. The numbers show there was pent-up demand for community care among veterans that the MISSION Act unleashed. In the nearly 15 months since the MISSION Act took effect, more than 2.4 million veterans have benefitted from more than 6.5 million referrals to community care.

While the old Choice Program suffered from not having enough community care partners, under the MISSION Act, VA is working with 725,000 private health care providers to ensure veterans have this option in the real world, not just on paper.

The MISSION Act also created a new urgent care benefit that gives eligible veterans access to urgent and walk-in care at participating non-VA clinics in their communities. This is a huge step forward in terms of convenience for our patients, as eligible veterans do not need to get prior authorization from VA to visit an urgent care provider in our network.

That means veterans don’t have to find a VA facility if they sprain their ankle or develop a minor infection. They can get care close to home, and so far, more than 360,000 urgent care community appointments have occurred.

As these numbers show, it’s the MISSION Act that delivered real, permanent choice to veterans, even though some media reporters and so-called fact-checkers have obscured this by focusing on semantics.

Let me be clear: When President Trump says he gave veterans “choice” he’s not referring to the Obama-era program that fell far short of its promise. He’s referring instead to the MISSION Act, which finally delivered veterans the real, permanent health care choice they have earned.

Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieHillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides MORE (@SecWilkie) is the 10th Secretary of Veterans Affairs