When George Geiger, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was diagnosed with throat cancer, doctors told him he needed radiation and chemotherapy.
The treatments would be draining, but Geiger, whose helicopter was shot down six times during the war, was ready to fight. There was just one problem—the VA hospital in Atlanta was at least an hour away from his home.
The VA allowed Geiger to get his radiation treatments at a hospital less than a mile from his home under the current VA Choice program. But when he asked about getting his chemotherapy treatments at the same hospital, the VA said no. He would have to drive to the VA hospital instead.
Hours of Driving and Weeks of Frustration
Geiger told a local reporter that the doctor at his local hospital was shocked. “The doctor says, ‘Well, what if you have a reaction to the chemo with the radium and pass out in 75/85 traffic? What’s gonna happen then?’”
For over a month, Geiger tried to get permission to receive his chemo treatments at his local hospital with no luck. Finally, he reached out to the local television news station to ask them for help.
They sent a reporter who filmed a brief interview with Geiger talking about his frustration as he lay in his hospital bed, the tumor clearly visible on the left side of his neck. The reporter posted the video to YouTube and sent a link to the VA.
Within 24 hours, the VA had approved his request for treatment at the local hospital. It has been 67 days since his diagnosis. He’s been getting regular infusions and radiation, and the tumor in his throat is shrinking.
The Current Choice Isn’t Enough
The frustrating story is just the latest example of why the current VA Choice program isn’t enough. Veterans can only use local hospitals if they live more than 40 miles away from the VA, if travel deemed an “excessive burden,” or if they cannot get an appointment within 30 days.
Funding for the choice program has increased, but unless those restrictions are lifted, more veterans like Geiger will be stuck in a health care system that doesn’t meet their needs. Veterans should be free to choose their health care provider, whether that’s the VA or a local provider.
It shouldn’t take a news story for the VA to do the right thing and allow veterans to get the health care that meets their needs. As Geiger put it, “A purple heart veteran, like myself, should not have to go to [a TV station] to get help.”
If you’re fed up with stories like this one, click here to sign the petition to demand lawmakers give veterans choice over their health care.