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Veteran’s Choice Card
by Sam Younghans

To Veterans who want to use their Veteran's Choice Card:
I just went through a very trying challenge, getting eye surgery through my Veteran’s Choice Card. This Choice Card is new and most facilities are not familiar with it, or with the procedure it takes to get it processed. I wrote this to help Veteran’s in the future. Once it is accomplished it is really a benefit to many people; not just to Veterans. It facilitates access to local medical treatment, thus saving much travel time, pollution to the environment, and the cost of gasoline. It will lighten the load of VA Hospitals over this whole country, at a time when it is truly needed. It helps Veterans get the care they deserve in a much quicker time.
There are many Veterans in Ashland and other areas who can benefit from this.
I will post the complete story below.
Sam Younghans

Veteran’s Choice Card
By Sam Younghans

From what I understand, I am one of the first to use the Veteran’s Choice Card, related to getting quicker service with less travel. I am writing this article to help all Veterans who may want to use their Choice Card in the future. It will get easier as more Veterans use it, and the local facilities become more familiar with it. The Veteran’s Choice Card is a wonderful gift to the Veterans, and to the environment, from our President Obama. It also lightens the load on the Veteran’s Hospitals all over the country. More Veterans will benefit from this in many ways.
            Yesterday, June 1, 2015 my eye surgery was completed. It was done near my home in Ashland, OR, at the Siskiyou Eye Center by a wonderful doctor, Robert Ewing, MD. He removed a very large cataract, and then inserted a plastic lens. I am now able to see again. I did not have to travel 110 miles to Roseburg VA Hospital, two or three times, in order to have it done. That is 660 miles I did not have to put on my car, also a nice savings on gasoline, plus it reduced the amount of pollution that my trips would have put into the air.
            I received my card about 2 months before my examination at the VA Hospital in White City. Since I am only 25 miles from the hospital, I didn’t think it would help me. Then I was scheduled for eye surgery. Roseburg was the closest eye hospital, 110 miles north of Ashland. I was told that I would have to be there on two or three occasions. Going and returning added up to 660 miles. I went back and re-read my Choice Card information. Both time and distance were in my favor. I could use my Choice Card.
            I did not realize what it would take to accomplish the use of the Choice Card. Since it was a new thing, most facilities were not aware of it. I was one of the first to ask for its use. When I started running into difficulties, I decided to record this to help other Veterans get through this without all of the difficulties and obstacles I ran into.
            I do not blame anyone, because there is no blame, people want to be sure they are paid for their services. It is all very new to everyone involved. It was a matter of different concepts and procedures with the people I had to deal with. There are some tips about how to proceed at the end of this article. This may be confusing, it was for me, but this is how it went down. I will repeat myself, but I believe it will help to understand the obstacles’.
            About five or six years ago I injured my left eye. It formed cataracts and the VA in Long Beach, CA removed the cataracts and replaced my lens with a plastic one. That was wonderful. No problems with the eye or the process. It went very smoothly.
            I started having some difficulty with my right eye. I am 85, so I figured it was part of aging. I was now living in Ashland, Oregon, and had been to the VA Hospital in White City, about 25 miles from Ashland. I felt they were very good. I never had any problems. So I went to them about my eye, which was tearing constantly and my vision was blurry out of the right eye. At the VA, they examined me and determined that I had cataracts in my right eye.
            I requested a new lens so that both eyes would be the same. They agreed and set up an appointment for me in Roseburg, which is about 110 miles from Ashland. It was the nearest VA facility that handled eye surgery. I have a 1997 VW Golf, that could make it up and back, but they said I would have to first have an examination and then come back for surgery, and an examination after that. That was a little much for that car, and me.
            I re-read my Veteran’s Choice Card information, and saw that I qualified, which enabled me to find a local provider. I liked the treatment and professional care I always received at the VA, so it was not an easy decision. In my hometown of Ashland, OR I found the Siskiyou Eye Clinic that did eye surgery. I went and applied. By that time I had approval from the Veteran’s Choice Card people to find a provider.
            I was the first Veteran’s Choice Card user to come to the eye center, so they weren’t familiar with the process (the whole process took four months). I was told that their insurance people might not approve of it. I filled out all of the paper work they required; they scanned my approval and my Choice Card. After some time lapsed, they called, saying that they could proceed. They made an appointment with me to have an eye examination. I had the examination, and then waited for an appointment for the surgery. I was scheduled for June 1st.
            Because of the confusion in the beginning I felt I had better stay on top of this situation. I went into the eye clinic to affirm my appointment. I was told that it was set, but that they hadn’t received authorization from the VA. So, I contacted the White City VA and was told that it was in the hands of the Roseburg VA. I contacted them and was told that they had sent out approval.
            What I didn’t know (I don’t think anyone did) was that the forms sent into the Tri West (Veteran’s Choice Card handler) requested an examination and said nothing about surgery. So the examination was approved, but not the surgery. They had to send in a second request for surgery. This was becoming frustrating. I made frequent trips to the eye clinic, and many calls to both Roseburg VA and White City VA, plus many calls to Tri West and the eye clinic.
            During all of this time, my 60-day time period with Tri West expired and they would have to start all over. Today is Tuesday May 26th. I have five days until I am scheduled for surgery, which they will not perform without written authorization. They will do it, but prior to the surgery, since I have no insurance provider, they will require the full amount of the surgery. I barely get by as it is, with Social Security and VA benefits so I don’t have the money to pay in advance.
            To sum up my story: I was dealing with three different entities: The Roseburg VA Hospital, The Siskiyou Eye Clinic in Ashland, and Tri West (Veteran’s Choice Card people – different names in different areas) in Phoenix, AR. It started out that I was scheduled for surgery in the Roseburg VA, approved by the VA in White City. If I had gone to Roseburg, the surgery would have been completed by this time. Now the Choice Card arrives, and I take advantage of it to save the travel time and my car. Next in line is the Siskiyou Eye Center where I will receive my eye surgery. These are three different types of services, with three different types of protocol.
            The eye clinic requires an examination before any surgery. That makes sense. So instead of requesting the surgery, they requested authorization for the examination from Tri West. It was approved. After the examination they set a date for the surgery; June 1, 2015. I went to the eye clinic to verify the date and to make sure everything was in order. It wasn’t. They told me that they hadn’t received written authorization to do the surgery. I immediately called the VA in Roseburg, and was told that the surgery was authorized. The eye clinic had no written authorization, and could not proceed. Then I received a letter from Tri West, stating that my 60 days for a request had expired.
            I called Tri West and was told that they only received a request for an examination. They needed one for the surgery. I went to the eye clinic and was told that because an examination was required before surgery that they couldn’t request authorization for surgery until the examination. At this point I already had the examination, approval from Roseburg, and now needed to get back to Tri West.
            The last time I spoke with Tri West they told me they would check into it. This morning at 7:39 I received a call from the Roseburg VA. I was told that they were checking into it, and as far as the VA was concerned, it was authorized. I received a second call this morning from the Roseburg VA, saying that they spoke with the Choice Card people and that it was approved, but would take a few days to process. So, today is the 27th of May and I have five days until the surgery if I get the authorization from Tri West.
            I just spoke with Aaron the coordinator at the eye clinic, who is helping me. She said something new had developed. The surgery department was another entity, which also needed authorization. Now it is four entities that all need authorization. This has also been a learning experience for them. Hopefully, it will help them in the future. Aaron gave me some hope. She has me down for a surgery appointment on June 11TH in case I was cancelled on June first. That relaxed me tremendously. I didn’t realize how tense I was until I started to write this article.
            I told them in the Roseburg VA that if the Siskiyou Eye Clinic cancelled me, I would come up there; have my examination, then live and sleep in the car till it was time for my eye surgery. I would not drive back and forth.

Here are the tips I spoke of at the beginning of this long confusing story. I hope this simplifies the process for you, and your providers.  

  1. Have your Choice Card approved. That starts the ball rolling.
  2. When you go to a local provider, realize that they have to have all of the authorizations in order, and that it may be new to them. So, have all of your paperwork in order; Social Security number, Choice Card Number (they will make a copy of that, but always have it with you; especially if you call the Tri West (VA Choice Card People – different names in different areas.)
  3. Be sure you get the names, addresses of all the local providers that will be involved in your process. Make sure you don’t miss any of them. Each one will have to have authorization from the VA Choice Card. That way you will have no surprises.
  4. You will have to fill out more paperwork at your local medical facility. Get copies of all of those papers because you will be asked a number of times to fill out the same paperwork. That is show biz.
  5. Keep following up. These are busy people and may not be familiar with the process. Even if they are, it is up to you to make sure everything goes as planned. I have talked with many people at the eye clinic facilities, the VA Hospitals, and the Veteran’s Choice Card people. All have been wonderful. This is also all very new to them. They want to help you.
  6. Above all, be patient. You will have to make many calls and listen to many robots before you reach a live person, and when you do, they may have to put you on hold while they look up certain items. I feel sure I am not the only one having this problem. Don’t get frustrated, it is all very new; these are only links in a chain of events leading up to your ultimate goal.

      I want to thank some wonderful people who helped my through this: Aaron, Terri, Nicole, Rocky and Shalonda (in Louisiana), were some that I kept hounding and were very nice to me. The people who examined me, both at the White City VA and the Siskiyou Eye Clinic were great. Robert Ewing, MD did a wonderful job on my eye.

The only problem is the paper work and communication between the principals. Like I said, “That’s show biz.”      *****
Sam Younghans

I found that my left eye was now becoming blury. That is another story. But something new developed about me; a lot of blood in my urine. I went to White City VA and found that treatment would once again require a lot of milage, so I requested the choice card. This time everything went very smoothly. Tri West took over and found me a place in Medford (I have a feeling Ashland does not like veterans) and handled everything. I will report what happens.

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