Bureaucratic bewilderment: Local veterans facing hurdles when accessing health care
Local providers that participate in VA Programs
This is a non-comprehensive list of local providers. If you have questions, contact the offices directly.
Middle Park Health, with locations in Kremmling, Granby and Winter Park
Byers Peak Medical in Fraser
Granby Dental, locations in Granby and Kremmling (Currently on hiatus)
Winter Park Dental
Veterans are a fixture of life in Grand County, but when it comes to finding medical care within Middle Park, those who served often encounter difficulties in accessing care.
The difficulties that local veterans face in accessing health care in Grand County is partially related to geography and population. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly known as the VA, operates a little over two dozen health care facilities in the state of Colorado from the massive Denver VA Medical Center to smaller outpatient clinics like those found in eastern plains communities. Most of those facilities are located in population centers, such as Fort Collins or Grand Junction, while others provide regional access to more remote communities, such as Durango’s outpatient clinic.
Grand County, however, being a low population county relatively close to the Denver metro area, has no VA managed health care facilities within its borders. As a result, all Grand County-based veterans who want to access health care through the VA, as opposed to private insurance or cash payments, must first travel to a VA facility to access care.
Because Grand County is over 40 miles away, via road, from the nearest VA medical facility, local veterans can still seek care through the VA’s Community Care Veterans Choice Program, depending if local providers participate in the program. The process, though, has been cited as being slow and cumbersome for all involved parties.
The issue is a significant one for Grand County.
According to local officials, there were 1,415 veterans in Grand County as of July 2018. That figure is roughly 10 percent of the county’s estimated 2017 population total of 15,321. Of those 1,415 veterans, roughly 770 receive some form of benefit from the federal government in the form of pensions, insurance, medical care and more.
Former U.S. Army Captain and Iraq War veteran CarrieAnn Grayson, a Grand County resident, knows the issue first-hand.
Grayson, who is a certified disabled veteran, moved to Grand County after visiting the area in 2012. Over the past several years, Grayson has encountered hurdles when it comes to accessing specialty care in Grand County.
“It is mostly about specialty care and not primary care,” Grayson said, adding that she has spent the past several months trying to work through the VA’s referral system to see a specialty provider in the county.
“I went to my primary care provider here and they faxed a referral in mid-November,” Grayson said. “We sent it to every single fax number that I could find. They re-faxed it to multiple numbers. By January they still couldn’t find my fax. I finally have an appointment set for Feb. 8 in Denver because the local provider doesn’t work with the VA.”
Under the Community Care Veterans Choice Program, veterans can access health care from private local providers after going through a relatively lengthy and complicated referral process.
“You have to be enrolled in VA medical to be eligible to go to community care,” explained Duane Dailey, veterans service officer for Grand County. “If they are a new enrollee they will initially go to a general appointment with a primary care provider at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (located in Denver).”
According to Dailey, veterans must inform VA officials they live more than 40 miles away from the nearest facility and that they want to enroll in Community Care to access the program. Once veterans have gone through the necessary steps to enroll in the program, they must go through a similar multi-step process to secure appointments at local providers through the VA choice system. The system involves a lot of back and forth between health care providers and the VA. A treatment plan must be developed and approved by the VA. The VA, and not the providers themselves, set payment rates.
“It is incumbent on veterans to call community care and tell them you want to go to a primary care provider,” Dailey said. “Hypothetically, if a veteran wants to go to Granby they will make the appointment for the veteran. You cannot just show up. Many people try to bypass the process.”
The issue of finding specialty providers who work with the VA adds an extra dimension of difficulty to the process.
Veterans not only have to go through the complicated and often confusing VA community choice referral system, but they must also hope that a specialty provider in their area participates in any VA programs.
According to Grayson, she and many other local veterans sometimes struggle to find local specialists who work with the VA. Officials from Middle Park Health confirmed they work with the VA to provide primary care for veterans here in Grand County.
Emergency medical care follows yet a different dynamic.
Veterans can get emergency room visits covered by the VA, but they must call a regional VA office, at Fort Harrison Montana, within three days of receiving treatment.
Among specialty providers, such as dentists, chiropractors and optometrists, the picture is more complex.
Granby Dental, with locations in both Granby and Kremmling, normally participates in the VA community choice program to provide dental services to local veterans, but, according to the office, the process has not been running smoothly.
“It was running pretty smoothly up until about six months ago,” explained Michelle Burns, office manager at Granby Dental. “Since then we haven’t received any payments from the VA. We have stopped seeing patients until the VA gets their act together. It is difficult. We want to provide that benefit to them.”
Burns said Granby Dental is still happy to accept veterans as patients while dealing with VA-related payment issued, but noted that those veterans would need to cover care-related costs through private insurance or cash payments.
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