Forward Observer — The VA Fixes the Veterans Choice Card’s “How the Crow Flies” Issue

LVMAC Poster Art 2005Few doubt that Congress had a point in wanting the Veterans Choice Card provision in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA) — excessive delays in service merited this temporary measure — but it seems also to have  rushed the Department of Veterans Affairs, whether unfairly or not.  In its haste to respond to short deadlines, the VA has made some poor regulatory decisions along the way.

It was bad enough that a criterion for the use of the card was tied to a veteran’s proximity to a VA medical facility (hospital or clinic) regardless of whether or not the service required could ever be performed there (forgetting the time-to-service criterion for the moment).  It is doubtful the Congress intended that interpretation of its law, for it makes no sense.  But to heap poor judgment upon poor judgment, the VA also specified that the distance was to be measured in a straight line.  A paranoid might think the VA was resisting the will of Congress.

As expected, that decision led to complaints.  After all, it was inconsistent with the way the VA calculated travel reimbursement.  Thankfully, the forty (40) mile “as the crow flies” ruling is soon for the birds.  On 24 March, the department announced it will now use actual driving distance, or more correctly, the “… method of determining driving distance will be through distance as calculated by using a commercial product.”  The calculation should exactly or closely match the way the VA calculates distance for travel reimbursement, depending on the software product used.

One expected outcome is the doubling of the number of eligible veterans.  Since the Veterans Choice Program went into effect on November 5, 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled – below expectations and partially due to problems in the roll out of the program.  Eligible veterans are to be notified by mail.

The ruling will go into effect once the VA publishes an interim final rule-making in the Federal Register – which has not occurred as of this writing. For more details on the change, click here.

Maybe the next step will be changing the criterion for the determination of the nearest Veterans Health Administration facility.  It ought to be based on the nearest facility which has the needed service to speed up access-to-care decisions.

As a final note, veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program must call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment.  Do not assume you are eligible, have an authorization to use the card because it is in your hand or that you can walk into any doctor’s office (not all doctors are participating).  For more details about the program and how to use it properly, click here.

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RJH
As of 26 March 2015

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