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VA Makes Changes to Veterans Choice Program

An additional 160,000 veterans became eligible December 1 to receive VA-paid medical care from civilian health care providers, the result of changes to the Choice Act of 2014 voted several months ago as Congress seeks to ease the flood of complaints still swirling around that poorly designed law.

Meanwhile, VA officials have unveiled a costly, complex and phased plan to consolidate the Choice program with a “patchwork” of other purchased care initiatives enacted over the years, even as VA hospitals continue their own referral agreements with local community providers.

 The resulting hodgepodge of purchased care deals and requirements, in the wake of the Choice Act and rising demand for outside care, has created an administrative nightmare for VA care coordinators and sown confusion for many veterans, VA staff and local health care providers. For the most part, Choice operates nothing like lawmakers or veterans envisioned.

Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday to explain the ambitious New Veterans Choice Program to be phased in over several years as well as changes made Dec. 1 to the current Choice program.

 Before December, enrolled veterans gained automatic eligibility for Choice if they resided more than 40 miles from any VA medical facility.  The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Act, now implemented through VA regulation, makes the eligible pool deeper.  Vets now have access to Choice if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA facility staffed by a primary care physician at least 36 hours a week.

 This opens Choice to 160,500 more veterans enrolled in VA care.

 Another Dec. 1 change lifts a requirement that to qualify for Choice a veteran must have enrolled in VA health care by Aug. 1, 2014.  That date is removed, making 26,000 recent enrollees eligible for Choice automatically because they live more than 40 miles from VA primary care.

 Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program or wanting to know more about it, can call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment. 

  1. Vernon sisco
    Vernon siscoDec 09, 2015

    I’ve had to deal with them twice. And both times it took longer for them to call me than it did to wait the 2 1/2-3 months for my VA appointment. It sucks!

  2. Mike Covino
    Mike CovinoDec 30, 2015

    My experience with the Choice Program has been a nightmare. Telephone hold times exceed 45min. When you do get a rep. they don’t know what they are talking about and seem to be making things up as they go. I would like to know why when the VA says you need surgery does some nurse have to determine if you need surgery. This system is so flawed. I would like to know the administrative costs of this program and who is really making money while we vets. Waite for care. I have been waiting since Nov. 7 for surgery.

    • Tommy Campbell
      Tommy CampbellJan 12, 2016

      One of the things NAUS supports is the efforts of the VA to improve the Choice Program. We are working with The Military Coalition to expand VA internal medical capacity; assure timely access for outside VA referrals; support efforts to hire medical professionals and to fix the scheduling system.

      The Choice act is new and has already undergone several changes. VA tells us they are making progress but as a new program to expect some glitches to continue.

      As for your situation in waiting for surgery, we would suggest you contact the patient representative and demand an explanation of what the delay is and when it can be expected to be resolved.

  3. LisaR
    LisaRJun 09, 2016

    That’s all great for the folks it works for. But we have a local CBOC that can’t do much more than general run of the mill check ups, referrals and meds check ins. Whenever they do referrals it’s always to our “local” VA hospital 2.5 hours away. He’s always told because we have the CBOC within 40 miles he can’t use the choice program. Yet with an injured knee the VA expected my husband to drive 2.5 hours *one way* 3 days a week for physical therapy at the “local” VA hospital- while he works 60-70 hours a week at his job. And when we made that drive to consult with the surgeon they gave him an appointment with a surgeon who was leaving and was a complete waste of time for us to see as he was completely unprepared for the appointment, came into the room choking on his beef jerky and sucking on a diet Mountain Dew, has the personality of a wet dishrag and was a condescending git.

    I won’t even enroll though I’m eligible for VA benefits because it’s an excessive burden to expect us to drive 2.5 hours one way for so many issues just because we have a local CBOC so don’t fit the 40 mile radius rule. I’ve observed the care my husband gets at the hospital and there’s no way I’m subjecting myself to that sort of treatment when I already have an intense mistrust of military affiliated medical care after doctors ignored my symptoms for many years in MTF’s letting my medical issues get out of hand until I ignored them and went to a civilian doctor and paid out of pocket.

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