Dep. Sec. Gibson: VA works to expand Choice Program eligibility
We’ve heard what Veterans are saying about the Veterans Choice Program and the current method of determining eligibility based on how the 40-mile distance is calculated. We are going to change that.
The mileage is currently calculated as the straight-line distance between a Veteran’s residence and nearest VA medical facility. In the near future, it will be calculated as the driving distance between the two. This change will roughly double the number of Veterans eligible to use the Veterans Choice Program using the 40-mile criteria.
VA is working quickly to implement this new benefit for Veterans and appreciates the constructive feedback from Veterans, VSOs and partners. In this instance, VA listened and researched ways to expand the program. We found that VA has the authority to expand the program by changing how the distance determination is calculated, which better serves Veterans.
We will be notifying Veterans who will be eligible under the revised mileage calculations to let them know of the change. The change will take place after we publish a new interim final rule. It will take a few weeks to accomplish this, but we are working to ensure it happens in a coordinated fashion as soon as we can.
VA looks forward to continued collaboration as we work to ensure the Veterans Choice Program is a success in expanding access to care. Since it went into effect on Nov. 5, 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled through the Veterans Choice Program, and 45,990 Veterans have requested to receive care using Choice as of March 17.
Many members of Congress have come forward since November asking VA to expand the law that they passed. Still, many Veterans tell us that they’d like to stay with VA for their health care needs. At VA, we are looking at the decisions we make asking ourselves one question, “what is best for the Veterans we serve?” As I’ve said, VA wants to make sure Veterans are able to get high quality care where they choose to receive it.
We are fully committed to effectively implementing VACAA and the Choice Program and we’ve seen that the program is not working for Veterans the way it should. For example, the law is clear that eligibility must be based on the distance from the Veteran’s residence to any VA medical facility, even if that facility does not offer the specific medical service the Veteran requires for that particular visit. VA is working with Congress, VSOs and Veterans like you to make changes to the law so that it works for all Veterans. We will be also working with them to make sure the funding is in place for the appropriate expansion of the program.
The Choice Program is one component in VA’s efforts to increase access, under VACAA. VA has been increasing staffing, enhancing collaboration with partners such as Indian Health Service, and extended the Project Arch Pilot and the AL/TBI Pilot. VA looks forward to the continued support of our partners as we continue to streamline and make improvements to this new program.
Sloan D. Gibson was nominated by President Obama to serve as the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and he was confirmed by the Senate on February 11, 2014. Mr. Gibson also served as Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs from May 30 to July 30, 2014. Read his full biography on va.gov.