VA expands Veterans Choice Program

President Barack Obama signs into law a bill improving the Veterans Affairs health care system Aug. 7, 2014, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The law dramatically expands veteran access to private care, adds medical staff and facilities, and streamlines the firing of VA executives found to be incompetent or guilty of manipulating patient data. Government photo.
President Barack Obama signs into law a bill improving the Veterans Affairs health care system Aug. 7, 2014, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The law dramatically expands veteran access to private care, adds medical staff and facilities, and streamlines the firing of VA executives found to be incompetent or guilty of manipulating patient data. Government photo.

Many VA-eligible veterans in Pocahontas County will be able to receive healthcare from local doctors under a new VA program.

The Veterans Choice Program will allow veterans to utilize civilian healthcare facilities under certain conditions. First, if the veteran lives more than 40 miles (driving distance) from the nearest VA clinic or hospital, he can utilize civilian healthcare providers instead of the VA. Second, if the veteran has to wait more than 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility, he will be eligible to receive care for that need at a civilian facility.

When the Veterans Choice Program launched last year, the 40-mile distance was calculated as straight-line distance. In March, the criteria was changed to driving distance, which is expected to roughly double the number of eligible veterans.

“VA has worked very quickly to implement the Veterans Choice Program and we appreciate the constructive feedback shared by veterans and our partners to help us improve service to veterans,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a press release. “We’ve determined that changing the distance calculation will help ensure more Veterans have access to care when and where they want it. VA looks forward to the ongoing support of our partners as we continue to make improvements to this new program.”

The VA is still in the process of adding veterans to the eligibility list based on street address. Eligible veterans who have not received a Veterans Choice card already should expect to receive one by the end of this month. Veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility and who do not receive a card by April 30 should call the VA toll-free at 866-606-8198 to clarify their information with VA.

The Maxwelton VA Community Clinic is the only VA healthcare facility within 40 miles of any part of Pocahontas County. Downtown Marlinton is approximately 37 miles by road from the clinic. Many veterans in the Marlinton area and all veterans north of Marlinton in Pocahontas County will be eligible for Veterans Choice based on the new mileage calculation.

Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Public Relations Coordinator Susan Wilkins said the hospital is ready for new veteran patients.

“Many people do not realize that Pocahontas Memorial Hospital was so named as a way to honor the county men and women who served in World War I,” said Wilkins. “We owe so much to the veterans who have served and fought for our country over the years and the Rural Health Clinic is very excited to be able to offer the Veterans Choice Program. To show our commitment, not just one, but all of our clinic providers have been credentialed and certified to offer healthcare for our veterans through the program. Veterans’ access to healthcare is difficult and we are looking forward to making sure our veterans receive high-quality, individualized care close to home right here at our facility.”

The Pocahontas Times confirmed with the VA on Monday that veterans will be able to see a civilian physician for regular and routine medical care under the Veterans Choice Program. There will be no need to obtain pre-approval for every doctor visit. However, before seeking healthcare for the first time at a civilian facility, veterans must call the VA at 866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and get signed into the program.

For more information on the Veterans Choice program, see www.va.gov/opa/choiceact on the Internet.

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