QUINCY -- Illinois veterans are learning that Health Net, a managed care service, is no longer handling coordination with hospitals and health care providers as part of the Veterans Choice Program.
Veterans still have access to all the health care they've earned, but loss of Health Net means additional steps will be needed to get care outside of Veterans Administration hospitals.
"When you call the toll-free number it just says that the (Health Net) program ended Aug. 1," said a Quincy area veteran who asked that his name not be used.
The Veterans Choice Program allows eligible veterans to receive health care from a community provider, rather than waiting for a VA hospital appointment or traveling more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Health Net previously coordinated for some area veterans to get health care at local hospitals, rather than driving to Iowa City, Iowa.
"It's a two and a half hour trip to Iowa City, and I end up losing a day of work. I just can't handle that," the veteran said.
A spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs directed the veteran to the community care office, which she said can coordinate with private sector health care providers.
In most cases veterans who get the OK for private sector health care may be covered for repeat visits for up to two or three months.
J.D. Dalfonso, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, said LaHood's office is aware of the issue. Dalfonso said the office works with veterans on issues like this on a weekly basis and helps navigate the bureaucracy.
"We want veterans to know that Veterans Choice has been extended for another year. That's when the VA Mission Act takes effect, and it should dramatically improve veterans programs," Dalfonso said.
When President Donald Trump signed the VA Mission Act on June 6, he said it would expand private health care options for veterans.
"We're allowing our veterans to get access to the best medical care available, whether it's at the VA or at a private provider," Trump said during a signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
The $55 billion program also orders an inventory of the 1,100 facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with plans to eliminate any waste in that agency.
Veterans who need a ride to Iowa City for health care also have the option of taking a bus on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Linda Bassett, travel coordinator for the local DAV, has been seeking volunteer bus drivers for the service and can be reached at 217-228-0695.