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NRHA applauds change in Veterans Choice Program

As of today, the Veterans Choice Program will begin using driving distance to determine the distance between a veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility for the purpose of determining a veteran’s eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program based on a distance of greater than 40 miles from a VA facility. The Department of Veterans Affairs released an interim final rule making this important change. The National Rural Health Association has been working on bringing attention to this importance issue since Congress began debating the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. While the clear Congressional intent of the law was to allow more veterans to receive care close to home, the use of a straight line distance was particularly concerning for rural communities where driving distances can be substantially longer than straight line calculations. NRHA renewed its concerns about the 40 straight line mile in comments submitted last month in response to a VA proposed rule on the Veterans Choice Program.  NRHA is pleased the VA has made this change and will now begin allowing more rural veterans to receive the care they need. NRHA has a strong interest in veterans care, as a disproportionate number of service men and women come from rural communities.  Similarly, a large number of veterans choose to return to rural communities at the conclusion of their service. NRHA’s comment regarding the Veterans Choice program raised additional concerns, including the inclusion of all VA facilities in the distance calculation whether or not they provide the needed services, concerns about contracting requirements, and timeliness concerns regarding veterans application for services. The new rule will be published in the Federal Register, with comments accepted for 30 days. NRHA continues to monitor these issues. Rural veterans face significant challenges in accessing health care services close to home.  Time, distance, and economic challenges prevent many rural veterans from receiving health care benefits through a VA facility. Preventative care and follow-up procedures are often impossible.  NRHA applauds removing barriers that prevent veterans from accessing health care services, and allowing rural veterans to have quality, timely care in their rural communities.

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