A little over a year ago, on August 7, 2014, the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014,” P.L. 113-146, was signed into law. The so-called “Choice Act” was intended to improve Veterans’ access to medical services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
An important part of the Choice Act was allowing Veterans to use private physicians if they were unable to schedule an appointment at a VA medical facility within specified wait-time limits, or lived more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility, or met other eligibility criteria for using a non-VA physician.
More than a year from enactment, has the Choice Act helped Veterans? No, not really. Why? Because VA’s rules still create obstacles to letting Veterans use non-VA medical services.
What are some examples? Well, VA has various types of medical facilities, including outpatient clinics, and community based outpatient clinics, in addition to medical centers. Although it is not possible to receive many – if not most – types of medical care at the outpatient clinics, VA considers its outpatient clinics as a “VA medical facility” for purposes of determining if a Veteran lives more than 40 miles away. This means the measurement is not “40 miles from where I can actually get medical treatment” but rather “40 miles from any VA facility.”
The unfortunate reality is that Veterans often end up driving to the outpatient clinic, then taking a VA bus to a VA medical facility. Since the VA medical center may end up another 40 or more miles from the clinic, guess what? Either you drive the 160 round-trip miles yourself, get someone else to drive you, or spend even more time using VA’s bus service. In other words, as implemented, the so-called Choice Act has left Veterans with some unattractive choices and no better access to medical care.
Another catch in the Choice Act is the requirement that the Veteran be told that they will need to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. Under the Choice Act, if you are told you have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment, you might be able to use a private physician – who then is reimbursed by VA. Well, you know how that plays out. VA has already been roundly chastised for gaming appointment schedules. Of course they’ll schedule an appointment for you less than 30 days from today. Then, they will cancel the appointment – even the day of – and re-schedule it. So, not only are Veterans left in exactly the same pickle as before, they’re given false expectations of quick visits and thus forgo timely treatment where time may be of the essence.
What does this mean to you?
- When scheduling an appointment with VA, pick the date YOU want. The Choice Act permits you to see a private physician if VA can’t meet your date, doesn’t say anything about a date, or can’t schedule you for more than 30 days. Be firm. Treat VA no differently than any other health-care provider. If you need to be seen tomorrow, tell them you need to be seen tomorrow.
- If your medical condition makes it difficult to travel long distances/by bus or van, speak up! VA isn’t going to make it easy for you to prevail, but you are entitled to see a private physician if your medical condition puts an excessive burden on you to travel to a VA facility.
- You need information. VA doesn’t like anyone assisting you. They will claim your privacy needs require that only you discuss making an appointment. Privacy is incredibly important – but that’s not the reason VA doesn’t want a representative assisting you. They want to make sure you do things their way, not the way that’s best for you and your health. Therefore, prepare yourself! Consult with a VA-accredited representative regarding your rights, your benefits, and benefits for your dependents.
Public Law 109-461 allows Veterans to hire attorneys to appeal VA benefits rulings. The Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. is one of the few VA-accredited Veteran attorney firms in the United States. Contact The Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. today for your FREE consultation.