Republican senators, including North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, detailed a plan Tuesday to give each patient at Veterans Affairs hospitals a "Choice Card" that would allow vets to seek care outside the VA system in certain circumstances.
A local retired Marine and his wife say the Veteran's Choice Act could save them hundreds of dollars a year.
Medically-retired Staff Sgt. James Rytych had just come home from an acupuncture treatment when WITN visited him at his house with his wife Mandy. It's one of many treatments James gets for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a traumatic brain injury he suffered in 2006 in his second deployment to Iraq.
After the injury, James deployed again to Afghanistan. It took years to diagnose his brain injury. The Rytych's decided not to waste anymore time and go where they heard about the best care in Morehead City and Durham. They pay out of pocket for a counselor every week in Jacksonville.
"When I got medically retired, the VA said, 'You have to go to our doctor or you got to pay your co pays out of pocket'," said James. "I already had a good rapport and I didn't want to start a whole new relationship with a counselor and go back over everything."
James and Mandy said they had to wait six months for an appointment in Durham after the VA hospital clinic canceled the appointment, they say, without notice.
The Veteran's Choice Act says a patient can schedule an appointment with a non-VA healthcare provider if an appointment can't be scheduled within a reasonable time frame, or if a veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Other parts of the bill would increase transparency and give the VA Secretary greater power to fire top executives.
The proposed legislation is in response to an emerging scandal at the VA of doctoring wait times and, in some cases, providing low-quality care to patients.