Over the last 25 years, the number of VA hospitals has gone down slightly while the number of outpatient and community-based outpatient clinics has skyrocketed. This change has put access to VA healthcare within easy reach of the majority of our veterans. Veterans who live in rural areas were often faced with a major challenge just to get to the nearest VA facility – both from time/distance and cost perspectives. The only real help available was from the veterans service organizations that run van programs to provide transportation to the VA. These programs were not uniform and did not exist in many places. This has begun to change with the enactment of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA). As this act is fully implemented, your choices for VA healthcare have expanded significantly as outlined below.
The Veteran’s Choice Program for VA Healthcare
The Veteran’s Choice Program (Choice) for VA Healthcare is designed to help veterans who either live a long way (more than 40 miles) from a VA facility or whose appointment is set more than 30 days in the future. This allows veterans to get the medical care they need with a local provider in a timely manner. There are some conditions that go with this and you must follow VA rules. First and foremost, you must be enrolled in the VA healthcare system. You can do this on-line at www.va.gov, by telephone at 866-606-8198, or in person at a VA healthcare facility. At that time, the VA will decide which category you are in (based on things such as service-connected disabilities/ratings and, in some categories, your family income). This will also determine if you will be required to pay a co-pay. A VA provider has to approve the care you are to receive under the Choice program. You can’t just go to the doctor – the VA will only pay for care for the specific conditions approved by the VA doctor. You can pick your local physician; however, you need to be aware that not all providers in your community may be eligible to participate in this program. If the provider you want is not eligible, the VA will furnish you with a list of eligible providers in your area. Using the Choice program does not impact your access to care at VA facilities or any other VA benefit. If you have any problems enrolling in VA healthcare or the Choice program, call the Patient Advocate at your closest VA healthcare facility. The following link to the VA’s website provides a list of all VA facilities in each state. By clicking on a state and then a given facility, you can obtain relevant information and telephone numbers. http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/allstate.asp