Tags: veterans | veterans affair | private | medical care | Veterans Choice Program

Number of Veterans Eligible for Private Medical Care Doubles

By    |   Friday, 24 April 2015 04:54 PM

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has decided that for veterans seeking eligibility for private medical care, the shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line.

With a simple tweak in the way it interprets regulations under the Veterans Choice Program (VCP), the VA has doubled the number of veterans now eligible to use the program, The Hill reports.

Before the change, announced Friday and effective immediately, veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility were eligible to seek private care, but the 40-mile distance was interpreted in a straight line, "as the crow flies," rather than using the actual driving distance a veteran must travel to get to a VA facility.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement, "VA is pleased to announce the distance calculation change from straight-line to driving distance for the Veterans Choice Program. This update to the program will allow more veterans to access care when and where they want it.

"We look forward to continued dialogue with veterans and our partners to help us ensure continued improvements for veterans’ access to care."

"Under the new distance calculation, a veteran who lives 40 miles or less,
measured using a straight-line distance, from the nearest VA medical facility, but who needs to physically drive more than 40 miles to get there, would be eligible for the
VCP," the VA noted.

"Under the previous straight-line distance calculation, this veteran would not have been eligible for the program unless he or she was required to wait for an appointment longer than 30 days from his or her preferred date or the date determined to be medically necessary by his or her physician."

However, should a veteran require medical care which is not provided at a VA medical facility within 40 driving distance miles of their home, the VA still will not allow that veteran to qualify under the VCP and receive their treatment at a private sector medical facility.

"Absent a statutory change, VA does not have the flexibility to adopt an alternative approach. We are working with Congress to seek possible alternatives," the VA stated.

The $10 billion VCP has proven to be a disappointment so far, with only 37,648 appointments made, a "tiny fraction" of eligible patients, Stars and Stripes reports.

There is still a backlog of 432,000 appointments which have been delayed for 30 days, Stars and Stripes notes.

"Advocates for veterans have also raised concerns that some veterans interested in the program were deterred by bureaucratic hassles, confusion about procedures or a lack of available, participating doctors," Stars and Stripes commented.

The choice of which method to use to calculate traveling distance to the nearest VA facility was made by the VA, which admits in the Federal Register, "VA also could have concluded that a driving distance calculation would have been a reasonable interpretation of the Act."

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has decided that for veterans seeking eligibility for private medical care, the shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line.
veterans, veterans affair, private, medical care, Veterans Choice Program
Friday, 24 April 2015 04:54 PM
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