Senate panel to look at VA's '40-mile' rule limiting outside care

Senate panel to look at VA's '40-mile' rule limiting outside care
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The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee next week will examine how the VA is implementing a new program that allows veterans to get private medical care.

The panel will hold an oversight hearing on March 24 to examine the criteria the department is using as part of the “choice card” effort, the panel announced Friday. The witnesses are yet to be determined.

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The program, in part, allows veterans to seek medical care at non-VA providers if they live more than 40 miles from an agency facility.

But veterans groups and lawmakers say that distance is too great and will limit many patients from getting the outside care they need.

The hearing will take place roughly a month after a bipartisan coalition of 41 senators, led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Biden-Harris train wreck may have its savior: 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump Kelly raises million in third quarter Legislative limbo — how low can they go? MORE (R-Ariz.), sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald asking him to modify how the program’s distance criteria is calculated “without delay.”

The VA is “construing the eligibility criteria as it relates to the 40-mile rule so narrowly that it is excluding too many who are far away from the care that they need,” the group wrote.

Lawmakers said the department “does not consider the type of care available within 40 miles of where a veteran lives” and measures the distance " 'as the crow flies' and not the actual distance that the veteran would have to travel.”

“Given the clear intent of Congress to reduce barriers to care, it is perplexing that the VA is not using its authority to allow non-VA care for those who face a geographic challenge in accessing care, including long drive times or health conditions that make travel difficult,” the group wrote.

The effort to provide access to outside care was a cornerstone of legislation Congress approved last year to revamp the VA. Lawmakers allocated $10 billion to improve the troubled agency after a months-long scandal over patient wait times and falsified data that was linked to a series of deaths.