Jon Stewart may bill The Daily Show as fake news, but his reporting on Monday night’s show opened up access to health care for thousands of veterans after he schooled the Department of Veterans Affairs on the Choice Program.
The Choice Program was a program that the Department of Veterans Affairs put into place after it was reported that veterans were actually dying while waiting for appointments through Veterans Affairs Health Care system. It was a program that addressed two issues — veterans who were waiting for than thirty days to receive care from their local VA facility, and veterans who do not live close to a VA facility. The Choice Program was supposed to allow these veterans to get out-of-network-care in a facility closer to home.
But to be eligible for the Choice Program, the veteran has to live 40 miles from the nearest VA hospital, and the Department of Veteran Affairs used the term as-the-crow-flies to determine eligibility.
“Because that is the least-meaningful way to judge how hard it is to get somewhere for non-crows,” Stewart said, blasting the terminology and highlighting how hard it is for some veterans to gain access to the health care they needed.
Just six hours after The Daily Show aired what Stewart called his “damning piece of investigative joke-a-lism,” the Department of Veteran Affairs relaxed the rule and will now use the actual miles driven as determined by Google Maps, rather than as-the-crow-flies miles to determine if a veteran is eligible to utilize the Choice Program.
The change may seem slight, but the initial usage of as-the-crow-flies mileage actually restricted access to health care for thousands of veterans. Within a program that was specifically designed to give veterans living in rural areas access to local health care, the language actually prevented many from doing just that.
For example, Gloria Heoppner, an 89-year-old Navy veteran did not qualify for the Choice Program, because she lived 38 miles from the VA as the crow flies. However, she would have to take a ferry from her home in order to reach the hospital, a commute that could take hours. Another veteran had to travel more than 50 miles to see an oncologist at the closest nearby VA facility, because he was technically only 20 miles away from a VA health care clinic — but that clinic did not offer any cancer services. Still, under the language of the Choice Program, he was ineligible.
Under the new language, both can now get care closer to home.
In fact, the change in the rule will actually double the number of veterans who will now be eligible for the Choice Program.
So why was the initial language in the Choice Program so restrictive? The answer, Jon Stewart found, was easy — Congress. Although it was a bipartisan agreement, Congress was more concerned about the price tag than the program’s impact, Stewart explained. By restricting access, Congress kept the price of the program down to $10 billion, rather than the original $50 billion that was projected when more veterans were included in the cost estimates. After highlighting the contrast between what Congress is willing to spend on defense versus what Congress is willing to spend on veterans, Stewart reached a sharp conclusion.
“See, it’s crazy. When they need veterans to fight wars, no time or expense is an obstacle […] but it turns out, when it comes to veterans, Congress are just dead-beat dads. They’ll spend a tremendous amount of time and money to get a chance to unload the ammunition, but once they blow that load that causes people to take care of…zzzzzzzz.”
After that stinging appraisal of a program that appeared to be helpful but contained language to specifically deny veterans the help offered simply to save costs, it’s no wonder that the Department of Veterans affairs quickly changed the language.
Watch the video below. And for another epic Jon Stewart take-down, click here to watch him take on Bill O’Reilly.
[Photos by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images and Spencer Platt / Getty Images]