By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, March 24, 2015, US Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) applauded the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for changing a rule that was restricting veteran access to private medical care. Congressman Byrne has been an advocate for giving veterans greater access to private care.
Congressman Byrne said: “Last summer Congress passed a bill to increase veteran access to private care, but through a self-serving interpretation of the law, the VA made the process as complicated as possible. I applaud VA Secretary Robert McDonald for recognizing the flaw with their interpretation and working to make things right. Veterans deserve more health care options, not less.”
In August Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which was intended to give veterans access to private care when wait times were longer than 30 days or a veteran lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
However the VA interpreted the law in a way that greatly diminished the actual number of veterans eligible for private care. On Tuesday, the VA announced that they will measure the 40-mile requirement by driving miles, instead of as the crow flies. The VA estimates that this will double the number of eligible veterans.
Congressman Byrne is the sponsor of H.R. 1096, the Real Choice for Veterans Act. Currently the VA interprets that means 40 miles from any VA facility. H.R. 1096 would change that to when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility “that is able to provide to the veteran the care and services that the veteran needs.”
In Mobile the VA has a simple clinic; but the nearest VA hospital is much more than 40 miles away. Rep. Byrne’s bill would give Mobile veterans access to a number of large, first-class hospitals.
Rep. Byrne said, “Today’s announcement is a positive development, but it alone doesn’t solve all the problems with the way the VA has interpreted the law. I will continue to push for the House to take up my bill, the Real Choice for Veterans Act, which would give veterans much-needed access to private care instead of forcing them to travel hundreds of miles out of the way in order to receive care.”
VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement, “VA has worked very quickly to implement the Veterans Choice Program and we appreciate the constructive feedback shared by Veterans and our partners to help us improve service to Veterans. We’ve determined that changing the distance calculation will help ensure more Veterans have access to care when and where they want it. VA looks forward to the ongoing support of our partners as we continue to make improvements to this new program.”
Veterans who seek to use the Veterans Choice Program should call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment. A commercial driving software program will be used to calculate veterans’ eligibility.
Since the Choice Program went into effect on November 5, 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled.
Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.