Ascension Health targets veterans in new ad campaign

Starting Monday, Edmundson-based Ascension Health will begin targeting military veterans with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, sparking concern from some veterans groups that such a marketing push could weaken the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

The campaign tag lines — “Veterans have a choice in healthcare” and “You honored your oath, and so do we” — emphasize consumer preference and the shared values of medical professionals and the military. The campaign will urge veterans to call a toll-free number for information about Veterans Choice, the cornerstone of the VA overhaul approved in 2014, which makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors.

Veterans say they are wary of proposals to privatize the VA health system and fear that draining off patients and dollars could hurt the VA in the long term, said Louis Celli of the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group. Though they supported the Choice legislation after a scandal over long wait times and falsified records, most want the program to remain temporary, he said.

More than 4.6 million veterans used VA health care last year, and the VA says it has reduced its waiting list while authorizing millions of veterans to receive care in the private sector. Ascension estimates its efforts could lead to 24,000 veterans a year getting care from its providers, helping the VA reduce its backlog of cases.

Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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