Ascension Health targets veterans with first-of-its-kind ad campaign

Multimillion-dollar campaign urges vets to use Veterans Choice benefits at Ascension facilities

Ascension Health this week launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign encouraging veterans to seek taxpayer-funded care from Ascension doctors—a move that veterans groups met with mixed reactions.

The campaign highlights how veterans can access Ascension facilities through the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Choice Program, which pays for vets to see private doctors if they live at least 40 miles away from a VA facility or face at least a 30-day wait for a VA appointment.

Ascension worked with the VA for 18 months to help expand veterans' access to the health system's facilities, Alison Kanski reports for PR Week. "It's been a fantastic collaboration," says Nick Ragone, chief marketing and communications officer of Ascension.

First-of-its-kind campaign emphasizes shared values of soldiers, doctors

Veterans groups say the campaign is the first large-scale marketing effort focused on the Veterans Choice program, which Congress created as part of the 2014 VA overhaul.

The 24-state campaign will include a satellite and radio media tour, national TV spots, ads in military publications, and Facebook ads.

Some private doctors may not accept VA patients

Ascension's outreach emphasizes the sense of duty shared by veterans and medical professionals. One TV commercial, for instance, cuts between veterans reciting the oath of enlistment and doctors reciting the Hippocratic Oath.

A concluding voiceover says, "Our veterans honored their oath, and so do we."

Veterans groups worry program could drain resources from VA

Some veterans groups, however, are skeptical of Ascension's effort.

Some worry that vets could face unexpected bills if they seek care at Ascension but are not eligible for Veterans Choice.

To prevent that outcome, Ascension has set up a dedicated landing page to emphasize that veterans must seek prior authorization to use their benefits. "We want to educate veterans that this program exists," Ragone says.

VA proposes value-based payments for private veterans' care

Louis Celli of the American Legion worries that the Veterans Choice program could allow private providers to drain patients and resources from the VA system. And he notes that veterans have different medical needs than the general public.

"How many mechanical arms [has Ascension] fitted recently?" Celli asks. "This campaign suggests that veterans are interchangeable with anyone else in society … which clearly shows that they just don't get it."

But other veterans groups are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"The most important part is that [Ascension] keep their information and materials up to date," says Carlos Fuentes of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "I commend them if they're up to that task" (Johnson, AP/US News, 3/25; Kanski, PR Week, 3/28; Ascension Health ad, YouTube, 3/28).

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