Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory

sec mcdonaldThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been undergoing a tremendous transformation. It is the hope of every Veteran and every American who cares for Veterans that the changes currently being made within the department will improve the efficiency and quality of service for the men and women who served their country in uniform.

Back in August, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (commonly referred to as the “Choice Act”) was signed into law. The implementing of the Choice Act and other Veteran-centric legislation is paving the way for rapid long-term improvements to the VA and its healthcare system (VHA) and benefits department (VBA).

The VA’s Secretary, Robert McDonald, has been given the task of ensuring that all of the appropriate reforms are put into place. McDonald recently issued an open letter to America’s Veterans that maps out his plans to implement VA reform under the Veterans Choice Program.

The letter talks about how the VA has signed contracts with two private health care companies to assist with administering the Veterans Choice Program. As required by law, the Veterans Choice Program is in effect as of November 5, 2014, and allows some Veterans to receive healthcare in their local communities, rather than traveling to a VA facility, or waiting for a VA appointment. The VA has created a call center that is now operational, in order to answer any questions and verify eligibility for this program. The call center can be reached by dialing 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Additional information can be found on the VA’s web portal on the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

Sec. McDonald’s letter addresses the issuing of Veterans Choice Cards to all Veterans who are eligible for the benefit. The Choice Card will allow Veterans to elect to receive care outside of VA facilities when they qualify for the program. Qualification is either based on the distance of their residence from a VA care facility, or when the wait times for care at a VA facility exceed the standards established by law. The Choice Card does not replace the VA identification card already in use to access other VA benefits.

The letter explains that the Choice Card will be issued to eligible Veterans in three phases. The first group of Choice Cards, along with a letter explaining eligibility for the program were already sent to Veterans who may live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. The next group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent shortly thereafter to Veterans who have been waiting for an appointment for more than 30days from their preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by their physician. The third group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent between December 2014 and January 2015 to the remainder of all Veterans enrolled for VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

It appears that Sec. McDonald is taking his responsibilities seriously, and not just offering lip service. Let us hope that reform continues to sweep across the VA and improve the delivery of healthcare and other benefits to Veterans.

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Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory