(August 5, 2014) President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law a reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs that easily passed Congress last week. The reform includes several items of interest to National Guard members who live far from VA facilities or have been the victims of sexual assault.
A main component of the roughly $17 billion legislation is an attempt to solve the problem of forcing veterans to endure long waits for appointments. To do that, it creates a Veterans Choice Fund of $10 billion to be used to pay the bills of patients using non-VA care.
To receive this care, veterans must receive a Veterans Choice Card. With this card, a patient who must wait an excessive amount of time for an appointment would be allowed to seek care from a private care giver and send the bill to the VA. The same is true for a veteran who lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
In both cases, the care can be provided only by a VA-approved provider or at a VA-approved facility. The definition of that is broad and would include most providers and medical facilities, but providers are under no obligation to recognize the Veterans Choice Card.
Columnist Tom Philpott points out that providers may be reluctant to participate in the program because of the level of reimbursement and the timeliness of the payments.
The legislation also expands a pilot program known as ARCH or Access Received Closer to Home. This pilot program has for two years allowed veterans to seek care from providers that have a contract with the VA to do so. The goal is to allow patients to seek care in their local communities. The new law will fund this program for two more years.
National Guard members who are victims of sexual assault will be available to seek counseling from the VA. This counseling is open to Guard members who otherwise do not qualify for VA care.