WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Veterans Choice

WAAY 31 took action to get a local veteran the help he needed to live with his Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The VA Hospital in Birmingham connected the veteran with a doctor in Huntsville.

Posted: Feb 15, 2019 6:39 PM
Updated: Feb 18, 2019 9:31 AM

Our latest WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation helps a Tennessee Valley veteran. The former Army soldier wanted to take part in the Veterans Choice program and use a doctor close to home here in Huntsville.

Trouble is, there didn’t appear to be a doctor willing to participate. WAAY 31’s Greg Privett was able to help the veteran get the results he wanted.

He’s often fighting to breathe. “I can’t take that real deep breath,” Tim Medley told WAAY 31.

People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease describe it this way: like they’re breathing through a drinking straw. They’re desperate for air.

“The COPD, I was diagnosed in 2005,” Medley told us. “But, I had an abscessed lung in 2016. Since then, of course, my COPD has worsened. And it’s difficult.”

Medley served in the Army in the late seventies and early eighties. At Fort Bliss Texas, the Army specialist worked on electronic components of Chaparral and Redeye missile systems.

He stood ready to fight for his country. Now, he’s fighting a dangerous lung disease.

“Without that knowledge of how to function with COPD, it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

To manage his COPD, Medley needs pulmonary rehabilitation. Huntsville has a smaller-scale VA Outpatient Clinic.

But, it doesn’t offer pulmonary rehab. So, Medley wanted to use Veterans Choice: the program that allows vets to see private doctors close to home and the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for it.

About two million vets have used Veterans Choice since it began in 2014.

On paper, Medley seemed the perfect candidate. For one, the VA Medical Center in Birmingham is more than forty miles from his home in Huntsville.

The only problem, the VA couldn’t match Medley with a nearby doctor participating in Veterans Choice.

“I would like to see more doctors in Huntsville take claims for veterans,” Medley said. “To me, that’s the only solution.”

Besides not being able to find a private doctor for Medley, the VA clinic here in Huntsville is not equipped to help with pulmonary rehab. When Medley reached out to WAAY 31 for help, we went straight to the VA Medical Center in Birmingham and asked them about Veterans Choice.

“It provides access to our veterans for care that we don’t provide here at the VA or for services that we cannot get the veteran in timely,” Tamika Taylor told WAAY 31. Taylor is community care program manager at the Birmingham VA.

Within 24 hours of our call to Birmingham, the VA was able to find a Huntsville doctor for Medley. He starts his rehab Monday.

Part of that solution is because a contractor called TriWest now has sole responsibility for administering Veterans Choice. The VA says that’s added relationships with more private doctors to see vets.

“It gives them that access so they don’t to travel miles away from home or even be on the road for two hours,” Taylor told us. “So, yes, in his case it was a very positive outcome and we’re very excited about that -- extremely excited.”

The VA was even able to arrange more medical treatment than Medley requested.

“Not only have we been successful getting the veteran the services he needs for his COPD condition, we were also able to get him scheduled to have a sleep study done locally so he doesn’t have to come to the Birmingham VA for those services,” Taylor explained. “I think all-in-all, everything has worked out well for him and it’s been a very positive outcome.”

It’s a success story that could extend to other veterans. Taylor says that’s why the VA wants more doctors to take part in Veterans Choice. “We truly encourage those providers to please just join with us because the veterans, they need the care. And they shouldn’t have to travel for miles to get that care,” she said.

Back at Tim Medley’s home, he told us, “I’m overwhelmed with it.,” I didn’t expect it to happen this fast.” For Medley, it’s a potentially life-changing breath of fresh air.

He told us, “It’s awesome to be quite honest, Greg. And I appreciate you working to help me accomplish this. This is just a good start for me. It gives me a new energy really and thankfulness. And I really thank God for it.”

The VA told us any veteran having problems navigating Veterans Choice can call Birmingham for help.

Last month, Congress passed a law to make Veterans Choice permanent. And there’s a proposal from the VA to open Veterans Choice to more vets allowing them to see a private doctor if they live just thirty minutes away from a VA medical center instead of the current forty miles.

MORE COVERAGE YOU CAN COUNT ON

Housing market booming in Madison County

Huntsville/Redstone
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 40°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 42°
Huntsville/Madison
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 39°
Decatur
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 37°
Fort Payne
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 39°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 685321

Reported Deaths: 8391
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby761671128
Davidson70706661
Knox38646393
Hamilton34556326
Rutherford33114283
Unassigned22759126
Williamson21364138
Sumner18205230
Out of TN1612079
Wilson14405155
Montgomery14367149
Sullivan12577211
Washington11889191
Blount11887124
Maury10941123
Bradley1075190
Sevier10461108
Putnam9931136
Madison9099178
Robertson761885
Hamblen6954109
Anderson6759102
Greene6569108
Tipton619065
Gibson5630111
Coffee560681
Cumberland537872
Dickson534678
Bedford532086
Roane519179
Carter5091112
Lawrence507569
McMinn506673
Warren497553
Loudon493750
Jefferson474975
Dyer473682
Monroe455162
Hawkins444968
Franklin410758
Obion399478
Fayette396251
Rhea381556
Lincoln378344
Marshall343536
Cocke342856
Weakley339448
Cheatham335230
Henderson332056
Campbell323940
Giles321071
White310043
Hardeman308752
Carroll307859
Hardin297647
Lauderdale293131
Macon287350
Wayne260719
Henry260358
Overton252942
DeKalb241741
Haywood239745
McNairy238142
Smith230527
Trousdale228714
Marion227731
Scott225231
Hickman222734
Fentress212531
Claiborne210129
Grainger208135
Johnson201532
Morgan188614
Crockett180338
Bledsoe174110
Chester173237
Unicoi166843
Cannon157019
Lake155319
Decatur147226
Polk142817
Grundy139320
Union138721
Sequatchie136518
Humphreys132617
Benton131935
Lewis127220
Meigs114016
Stewart105220
Jackson103721
Perry94725
Houston93922
Clay93726
Moore7959
Pickett67619
Van Buren6587
Hancock4026

Community Events