Local veterans discuss new bill to expand private care

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - President Trump has signed a bill into law to expand veterans' private medical care.

The bill passed both chambers of Congress last month with bipartisan support and delivers on a key campaign promise for the president.

The bill grants former service members more freedom to seek medical help from doctors outside the Veterans Health Administration System, something Veterans Service Officer Michael Roark said is needed in Smith County.

"It should open up some healthcare for some veterans a lot quicker then what they're getting nowadays," Roark said. "I know we are having a slight problem here with the VA clinic in Tyler because of staffing."

Problems veteran Jason Phillips said he's experienced firsthand. He arrived Wednesday for an appointment at 9:00 a.m.

"I waited from about 9:20 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. At about 11:00 a.m. I walked up to the desk and I said 'I still haven't heard from anybody' and they said they would check; and then I went back to the desk at about 11:30 a.m. and I said, 'I need to go back to work,' and they didn't have any answers for me," he said.

Phillips has been experiencing severe shoulder pain and still hasn't heard back from the VA on why he was unable to see a doctor.

And Roark has had a similar experience.

"The VA called me in March to set up my appointment to come in for my annual appointment," he said. "They called me in March but my appointment is in July; now if I needed something really quickly the VA is not the way to go through it."

Roark said he believes the new law will give all veterans more freedom to see private care providers and speed up the process.

We reached out to the Veteran Affairs office in Dallas.  An official declined to speak about Phillips' case, but said they are investigating his claim.

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