On Tuesday, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson announced a change in the Veterans Choice Program that nearly doubles the number of individuals eligible to participate under the 40-mile criteria.
“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,” Gibson wrote here on Vantage Point. “We are going to change that.”
VA announced it will change the calculation used to determine the distance between a Veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility from a straight-line distance to driving distance. The policy change will be made through regulatory action in the coming weeks.
For example, under the new distance calculation, a Veteran who lives less than 40 miles “as the crow flies” – or straight-line – from the nearest VA medical facility, but who needs to physically drive more than 40 miles to get there would be eligible for the Veterans Choice Program. Under the previous straight-line distance calculation, this Veteran would not be eligible for the program unless they were waiting for an appointment longer than 30 days from their preferred date or the date determined to be medically necessary by their physician.
Will the change in the 40-mile rule impact you? Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve been asked.
Q: When will this expansion go into effect?
A: VA must publish an interim final rule-making and this change will be effective upon publication of this rule-making in the Federal Register.
Q: How does VA plan to notify newly eligible Veterans?
A: Because all potentially eligible Veterans should already have received their Choice card, VA will send letters notifying Veterans who will be eligible under the revised mileage calculation. If you have not received your Choice card, please call 1-866-606-8198.
Q: What mapping tool is used to calculate the 40 miles?
A: The tool used will be a commercial product that is consistent with VA’s long-established beneficiary travel program. As every commercial product uses priority programming, the results may vary among products.
Q: Is it still 40 miles from any VA medical facility or is it 40 miles from a VA medical facility that actually provides the care needed?
A: This is currently defined as any VA medical facility. Absent a statutory change, VA does not believe that it has the flexibility to adopt an alternative approach. In other words, 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. In testimony Tuesday, March 24, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson answered a question about the 40-mile requirement as written into the law by Congress. Watch his response below or watch the full hearing online.
Q: Why is VA changing this criterion now?
A: The interim final regulation was based on the discussion in the House Conference Report that accompanied the Act. After further review of other information contained in the report, VA believes that revising the calculation will still be in the spirit of the law and allow improved access for Veterans.
Q: Where can I get more information about the program?
A: Visit the VA Choice website at http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/ and watch the video below.