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VA Choice Card 40-Mile Rule Change: A Step in the Right Direction

Washington, D.C. (March 24, 2015) – In testimony today before the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will welcome the Department of Veterans Affairs’ announcement that it is altering the distance criteria of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act’s to accommodate veterans’ concerns.

Before the hearing, IAVA applauded VA for amending the way the Choice Act measures the 40-mile distance criteria to driving distance rather than point-to-point or geodesic measurement. Veterans, particularly those living in rural areas, had raised concerns that while they may live within the 40-mile radius, they often need to travel many more road miles to visit their closest VA facility. IAVA, an early supporter of the bill that created the Choice Card program, and other VSOs had called on VA to alter the program, which allows veterans receive care from private providers if they live at least 40 miles away from a VA health care facility or if they face a wait of more than 30 days for a VA appointment.

“Thanks to this change in the Choice Card program, our veterans are one step closer to getting the health care they need when and where they need it,” said IAVA Political Director Bill Rauch. “During his listening tours, Secretary McDonald has given IAVA and our members opportunities to provide input, constructive criticisms, tips and recommendations. Today’s change is yet another example of how the new VA under Secretary McDonald’s leadership is listening to its customers. While this is a step in the right direction, we will continue to work with VA to ensure the program is better communicated to veterans to reduce the confusion among our members. IAVA is committed to working with the Secretary and other VSO stakeholders to ensure that additional changes are made so veterans feel empowered to use VA health care services.”

Based on a recent poll of IAVA members who are eligible for the program, only nine percent used the program while 25 percent stated they tried to utilize the program but were denied access. From those who were denied access, more than half (58 percent) were denied because of distance issues.

During his testimony, Rausch will also urge the committee to change the law to measure the distance from the nearest VA medical facility that offers the specific treatment or care the veteran requires. Finally, Rausch will implore the VA to aggressively educate its staff to ensure veterans are consistently being informed of the Choice Program.

IAVA is polling its members in its annual member survey in the coming weeks. Veterans wishing to help IAVA set its public policy agenda by taking part in the survey need to sign up as confirmed members.

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