FORT HOOD — Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday announced that the state has reached agreements with health facilities to provide care for veterans who cannot get timely treatment from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, he’s asking federal officials to approve the plan designed to help the 1.7 million veterans living in Texas.
The U.S. House and Senate this week both passed bills that would help veterans access health care outside the VA system if they cannot get a prompt VA appointment or do not live near a VA clinic.
“I remain hopeful, faithful, that Congress will in fact do the right thing and do it quickly,” Perry said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a privately funded facility that will treat soldiers for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress at the Fort Hood Army base. “But until that happens, this temporary option can help reduce substantial pressure on the veterans, who have earned through their valor and their dedication the very best care that we can provide.”
The proposal comes after the eruption of a national scandal over wait times at VA clinics. Whistleblowers have alleged that staffers at federal clinics were instructed to manipulate scheduling documents to falsely report shorter wait times for veterans seeking medical services.
Texas VA clinics have some of the longest patient wait times in the nation, according to a federal report released Monday.
Perry said reports of “endless waits” at Texas VA clinics are “just unacceptable.”
The governor sent a letter on Thursday to Sloan Gibson, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, asking him to approve the plan to allow veterans to use their federal benefits outside the VA system. Perry asked that the non-VA providers be reimbursed through Medicare, which he said would allow faster treatment and payment than would be possible through the Veterans Health Administration system.
“It is clear to Texans that [the Veterans Health Administration] needs immediate support to provide the care that our nation's heroes need and deserve,” Perry wrote.
Perry said several medical providers are interested in providing care under the plan, including the Baylor Scott and White, Christus and the University of North Texas systems, as well as University of Texas System hospitals.
At Fort Hood, Perry also said the state is planning to add staff to the Texas Veterans Hotline to help veterans understand their benefits and treatment options.
Perry's comments came after he drew national attention for comments he made in San Francisco on Wednesday night, when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism, according to KPIX 5, a CBS station in San Francisco.
During an event at the Commonwealth Club of California, Perry was asked whether homosexuality is a disorder.
The Republican Party of Texas earlier this month added to its platform a plank that endorses “reparative therapy,” or counseling and psychological treatments that aim to turn gay people straight. The American Medical Association opposes such therapy.
"I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way,” Perry said in a video posted on the TV station’s website.
Perry did not take questions from reporters at the ceremony at Fort Hood.
Disclosure: Baylor Health Systems and Christus Health are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.