VA expands veterans' access to private care

VA expands veterans' access to private care
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The Department of Veterans Affairs is making a change to its Veterans Choice Program, which will double the number of veterans eligible to seek private care if a VA hospital can’t accommodate them immediately.

The program allows veterans to receive private healthcare if they are unable to schedule an appointment at a VA clinic within 40 miles of their home within 30 days. The 40-mile distance was calculated by a straight line, or “as the crow flies.” But in many cases, the clinics where veterans had to seek care turned out to be further than 40 miles away by driving distance. 

The new change, announced Friday and going into effect immediately, relies on driving distance instead of a straight-line calculation.

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“VA is pleased to announce the distance calculation change from straight-line to driving distance for the Veterans Choice Program,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “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.” He added.

The VA also changed the way it reimburses travel to authorized healthcare sites, basing the formula on the fastest route possible instead of the shortest distance. 

While the program was initially lauded as a fix to the massive backlogs that plague the Veterans Affairs medical centers, a new Associated Press report showed that relatively few have been using the Veterans Choice Program.

The AP report found that 45,000 veterans have made appointments under the program, but almost 432,000 appointments at VA facilities are for dates more than 30 days out.