Archives 2010 - 1998
As a Veteran, I read with interest Victoria
Aldrich’s article on the South Texas Veterans Health
Care System (STVHCS) Veterans Town Hall in the November
6, 2015 edition of your paper. While Ms. Aldrich’s
article accurately portrays the STVHCS briefing on the
Veterans CHOICE Program, it lacks a historical context
and identification of the remaining problems that limit
Veteran’s use of the program.
Last year, in the wake of the Veterans Administration
(VA) appointment scandal that led to the resignation of
the VA Secretary, Congress passed the Veterans Access,
Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 that commissioned
the Veterans Choice Program. Congress gave the VA a
short 3-month timeline to stand up the program and make
it operational. The Choice program was to provide
Veterans critical non-VA care options if a Veteran could
not be seen by the VA, in a timely manner or, who lived
more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.
The program was only open to Veterans enrolled in VA
health care as of August 1, 2014.
There were several problems with the new Choice Program.
The 40-mile rule was measured “as the crow flies and not
by road distance traveled. If the VA medical facility
within the 40-mile limit was unable to provide the
required medical service, the Veteran could not use the
Choice Program and was required to travel long distances
to another VA medical facility. In some geographic
regions (especially in rural areas), there were limited
numbers of non-VA providers signed up to provide care.
Veterans who signed up for VA health care after August
1, 2014, were not eligible for the program. Choice had
priority over existing non-VA care programs and did not
cover all medical services. Complicated, confusing, with
gaps, may be an appropriate description of the program.
On May 22, 2015, Public Law 114-19 (the Construction
Authorization and Choice Improvement Act) changed the
40-mile rule to reflect driving distance. It did not
address any of the other above issues with the Choice
Finally, on July 31, 2015, Congress passed, and the
President signed Public Law 114-41 (Surface
Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice
Improvement Act of 2015). This law directed the
Secretary of the VA to develop a plan to establish a
new, single program named the “Veterans Choice Program”
to furnish hospital care and medical services to all
Veterans enrolled in VA health care no matter what date
they enrolled. It makes almost $3.4 billion dollars
available to the VA to pay for non-VA health care
provided to Veterans between May 1 and October 30, 2015.
Additionally, it expands the number of non-VA providers
permitted to participate in the Choice Program and
eliminates the 60-day limit on follow-up care.
What the latest Congressional change does not do is fix
the two issues that most limit Veterans use of the
CHOICE Program. It does not eliminate the 40-mile rule
and it does nothing to allow Veterans to choose any
health care provider that will accept Medicare rates.
This is especially important in rural areas where
providers are limited and distances Veterans must travel
for healthcare are greater.
The VA is implementing the new law in steps. To read
Public Law 114-41 in its entirety, go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3236/text/pl
. For the latest information on Choice eligibility, call
866-606-8198 or visit http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/ .
The web page has a link you can click to see which
doctors are participating in your area. If you have
questions or require more information, call your County
Veterans Service Officer.
Bandera County Veteran Service OfficerMary T. "Terry" Garza
Kerrville VA Hospital Advocate