The Ely Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a veterans’ community forum in Ely, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Shulkin in response to concerns raised at the meeting.

Heller previously requested the forum to provide veterans in and around Ely the opportunity to discuss the VA’s expired contract with William Bee Ririe Hospital and its effect on the more than 200 veterans it serves.

The letter makes the following requests: the VA hold another community forum within the next 60 days to continue the discussion; answers to specific questions related to the Choice Program; and an analysis and cost comparison of the previous contract with the William Bee Ririe Hospital versus accessing the same care in the hospital through the Choice Program.

The letter reads in full:

Dear Secretary Shulkin:

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a Senator representing Nevada’s veterans, I am following up with you regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Salt Lake City Health Care System’s change to the health care services provided to veterans in Ely, Nevada, and its surrounding communities.  I appreciate the community meeting that was held at my request and believe it was made clear that veterans in this area have serious concerns about how this will impact the health care they receive from the VA.

Ensuring that the needs of Ely’s veterans are met is an absolute priority for me. Yesterday’s forum demonstrated that these individuals are not comfortable with the changes to their health care from the VA. I believe it is our responsibility to listen to their concerns and find ways to address the issues veterans raised.

First, given the large number of veterans who arrived to take part in the forum, there was not enough capacity in the room for every veteran to fully participate.  I want to ensure that every veteran has the opportunity to voice their concerns and hear from the VA, which is why I request that the Salt Lake City VA hold another community forum within the next 60 days for the veteran community in or around Ely.  It is also clear from the strong concerns expressed that veterans need another opportunity to be reassured that this change is not going to negatively impact them.  Furthermore, I respectfully request that the Salt Lake City VA, moving forward, engage more with Ely veterans to ensure they understand the needs of this very active veteran community.

Second, I found that many veterans have serious concerns about having to utilize the VA Choice Program as a result of their negative experiences trying to navigate it. For example, one veteran said that when he called Health Net, the third party contractor that manages the Choice Program for Ely veterans, the individual assisting him said that Ely, Nevada, does not exist. That is absolutely unacceptable and I expect the VA to hold the contractors under this program accountable. Even worse, Ely veterans who have scheduled appointments through the Choice Program are unsure whether they can go to their appointment because they have not received confirmation that it has been authorized by Health Net. In light of this, how can you assure veterans in Ely, and across Nevada, who are accessing the Choice Program that this will be a simple process that does not make them jump through hoops just to get the care they have earned? If the VA is going to force this change in how Ely veterans receive care, they need to also provide reassurances that the contractor is going to meet its obligations in a timely manner. Will the VA also provide details on how it will better hold Health Net accountable to timely appointment scheduling and authorizations?

Lastly, I respectfully request that the VA provide an analysis and cost comparison of the previous contract with the William Bee Ririe Hospital versus accessing the same care in the hospital through the Choice Program. Veterans are questioning why this change needed to happen, and I believe it is important to provide that full analysis so they understand whether this change is beneficial to veterans in the community.

Again, I appreciate your attention to this issue of accountability for Nevada’s heroes and request an immediate response no later than April 10, 2017.  It has been a privilege to work in collaboration with you to serve veterans, and I look forward to continuing our partnership together.

Sincerely,

DEAN HELLER

U.S. Senator

cc: Director Shella Stovall, Department of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System