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The MISSION Act was supposed to speed up health care for vets. In Georgia, the wait keeps growing

Bruce Barber was hopeful the Department of Veterans Affairs latest $16.5 billion program to send former soldiers to private doctors would speed up access and get him better care.

His experience has been otherwise. He battled for months last year to qualify for the program, which began in June. In mid-December, he was finally given an appointment, 52 days away in mid-February. That’s just for a consultation with a VA neurologist, the first step to qualify for outside help.

“You have to be ready for a fight, because it’s a real battle,” said Barber, a 51-year-old resident of Kennesaw and veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

Last summer’s MISSION Act was Congress’ third attempt in less than a decade to get veterans into the hands of private doctors when VA facilities can’t see them quickly enough, aren’t located nearby or don’t offer services veterans need. It was pushed by President Donald Trump and is expected to move more veterans into privatized care.

The VA says the overhaul has gotten off to a good start, authorizing more than 1.5 million visits to outside providers between June and December. The program also allows veterans to visit private walk-in clinics without pre-approval, with 209 of the participating clinics in Georgia alone treating 2,477 veterans during that period.

But in Georgia, at least, there are also warning signs that things have gotten worse, not better. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of wait times at metro Atlanta VA health care facilities showed they grew at many locations since the program began, with waits as long as 63 days. And an inspector general audit of a VA district including south Georgia found veterans waited an average of 56 days to receive care last year.

Among the veterans still on hold is Tony Willis, who has worked without luck for more than a …read more

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