2014 saw the Department of Veterans Affairs come under scrutiny, most notably for the secret lists kept within the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. In 2015, the VA has come under scrutiny for something else: the Veterans Choice Program.
The Veterans Choice Program, a direct, $10 billion dollar response from Congress to the tragedies that came as a result of the secret lists, gives veterans the option to, “receive non-VA health care rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility.”
According to the VA’s website, veterans are eligible if:
- You have been told by your local VA medical facility that you will need to wait more than 30 days from your preferred date or the date medically determined by your physician
- Your current residence is more than 40 miles from the closest VA health care facility
- You need to travel by plane or boat to the VA medical facility closest to your home
- You face an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to a VA medical facility based on the presence of a body of water (including moving water and still water) or a geologic formation that cannot be crossed by road
What has come under scrutiny with the Veterans Choice Program is that second bullet point
— “Your current residence is more than 40 miles from the closest VA health care facility.” Until recently, that 40-mile requirement was restricted to the phrase, “as the crow flies”. No, seriously. “As the crow flies,” meaning: over water, over trees, over buildings, over everything and in a straight line. Seems a wee bit absurd, right?
The “as the crow flies” phrasing was effectively neglecting veterans that, say, live on an island, or live near an impassable range of mountains, or live near anything that they have to drive around in order to get to their nearest healthcare facility. 20 miles as the crow flies could easily equate to 50 miles on the road, or a 60-minute trip one way.
And then Jon Stewart stepped in….
It didn’t take long for the VA to respond to Stewart’s comments… In fact, it only took them six hours!
Rightfully so, the VA intends to continue improving this program by implementing new legislation in the near future that will extend its reach to several veterans that have been left behind by current legislation. How? By factoring in of driving time. A provision saying such was inserted into the 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, a bill currently making its way through the approval process.
WHAT OTHER CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE VA MAKE?