Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

By: Rebecca Kheel

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Tuesday, December 2, 2015, changes to a program that are expected to make it easier for veterans to seek out private healthcare.

“As we implement the Veterans Choice Program, we are learning from our stakeholders what works and what needs to be refined,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. “It is our goal to do all that we can to remove barriers that separate veterans from the care they deserve.”

The Veterans Choice Program was established in 2014 to alleviate the massive backlogs plaguing VA medical centers. But the program has been criticized, as some veterans who wanted to use it remained ineligible.

Originally, much of the criticism was focused on the criteria that veterans live 40 miles away from a VA center “as the crow flies.” In April, that requirement was changed to 40 miles of driving distance.

Tuesday’s changes further loosened the distance requirement to mean more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility with a full-time primary care physician.

(Editor’s Note – This One Paragraph Could Become A Problem Area Some Employees Take Things Upon Themselves To Deny Request For What Ever Reason) – VA employees will also be given discretion to decide who is eligible based on whether the veteran faces an “unusual or excessive burden” in getting to the closest VA facility, including geographic challenges, environmental factors or frequency of the care.

Also, veterans who need to travel by air, boat or ferry to the closest VA medical facility are eligible.

Eligibility was also expanded to veterans who live in a state or territory without a full-service VA center, including Alaska, Hawaii and New Hampshire.