Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Veterans Administration still struggling to meet health needs of rural vets

NPR reported earlier this month on the impact of recent VA changes on vets who live farthest from medical services.  Those changes came under the auspices of he Veterans Choice Act, which gives veterans the option of using a doctor outside the VA system if VA facilities are more than 40 miles away or if the wait for an appointment at a VA facility is more than 30 days.

Steve Walsh's March 11 story explains that while the rule seems simple enough, making it easier for veterans to get the care they need has been challenging in practice.  His story features retired Army vet John Bridzell, a volunteer who provides transportation to veterans from their homes to the VA Medical Clinic in Crown Point, Indiana, on Lake Michigan.  But many are going to Crown Point not to use that facility but rather to catch a shuttle bus to a facility in Chicago where a much wider array of services and specialists are on offer.  Oddly, given that the Crown Point facility doesn't have the services they need, these vets are disqualified from taking advantage of the 40-mile rule to opt out of the VA system because they are within 40 miles of Crown Point.  Walsh explains:
The Veterans Choice Act has only been operating since November, but it is struggling out of the gate. The non-profit organization Veterans of Foreign Wars, recently surveyed more than one thousand vets who thought they were eligible. But 80 percent of them reported the VA didn't offer them the option of going outside the VA system.
Among those advocating giving veterans better options is Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind.  Walsh quotes him:
We owe it to veterans not to burden them further as far as this travel. But it has been long-standing and it remains to be addressed.
Among other things, Visclosky is pushing for clarity on how to measure 40 miles—as the crow flies or as the highways run?  And what about the time consumed by traffic jams?
Then, today NPR reported again on this topic, this time with an update on how the VA will henceforth measure the 40-miles—based on actual driving distance.  What this new rule will not do is fix the other problem facing vets like those whose closest facility is one like Crown Point, where relatively few services are on offer.  That close proximity—albeit to a small clinic—will still disqualify them from going outside the VA system.  

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