Veterans will have expanded access to medical care outside Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities beginning Thursday.
The final rule, published Wednesday, establishes the Veterans Community Care Program under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (MISSION Act). According to the VA’s official blog, “veterans should expect a fairly transparent and seamless transition” into the new program.
The MISSION Act’s creation of the Veterans Community Care Program consolidates and expands the efforts of all the VA’s previous programs, including the Veteran’s Choice Program. All programs focus on non-VA health care opportunities for Veterans, with provisions allowing coverage for community providers.
Under the new program, veterans may see non-VA doctors if they must wait longer than 20 days or drive more than 30 minutes for primary or mental health care at a VA facility. Coverage is also offered for specialty services when the wait is longer than 28 days or an hour drive. Previously, the VA would only cover private medical care if the veteran experienced a wait longer than 30 days or a drive more than 40 miles.
A new urgent care benefit is also created, whereby veterans can visit non-VA urgent care clinics at VA expense without prior approval.
The Veterans Community Care Program is designed to serve as a supplement to the health care the VA provides to veterans in-house. Despite increasing eligibility for community care, the VA states they do not expect the program to deplete their budget.