The local options for health care for veterans are expanding nationally, including in Northwest Indiana. That's a welcome development.
Rather than busing veterans to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Chicago, give them the option of seeking treatment from local health care providers.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky have worked hard on this cause and deserve credit for their efforts.
Under the Veterans Choice program, veterans who live farther than 40 miles from a VA facility or who have to wait 30 days or longer for an appointment can seek medical care from a local provider.
Methodist Hospitals recently became the latest Region hospital system to participate. Community Healthcare System and Porter Healthcare System and their member hospitals are also part of the Veterans Choice program.
Patients still have to go through the local VA clinic to set up appointments, but at least they can get care sooner and at a more convenient location.
We have all heard the horror stories about excruciatingly long waits for care throughout the VA system. Some medical centers, of course, are worse than others. VA Secretary Bob McDonald, a Gary native, has begun the process of cleaning up that system, but the job isn't finished yet.
The Veterans Choice program, which took effect last year, still requires veterans to travel to Chicago for care because it's within the 40-mile radius. Congress should eliminate that restriction.
For many veterans, catching the VA bus to Chicago means getting up before sunrise to get to the Adam Benjamin Center in Crown Point, then sitting in the bus as it makes its way through traffic to the Jesse Brown or Hines VA facility in Chicago, then worrying about whether the health care provider will finish in time to catch the bus back to Crown Point. Some of the veterans have to be driven to Crown Point by volunteers. Traffic congestion and the travel time to and from public transportation stops should be taken into account.
Offer the convenience of local care to everyone so they don’t have to drive past nearby medical facilities to get to ones operated by the VA.
Our veterans sacrificed much in service to their country. Our country should return the favor by offering convenient, timely health care to veterans.