Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village) and Congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01), together with 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to improve veterans’ access to medical care under the Veterans Choice program.

Last August, Congress passed and the President signed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-46). Among other provisions, the law established a Veterans Choice Program to expand access to non-VA healthcare for veterans residing more than 40 miles from a VA facility, for those who face long wait times for a VA medical appointment, and for those who face a significant barrier in accessing VA care.

In November 2014, the VA issued an Interim Final Rule for the implementation of the Veterans Choice Program. Brownley, Visclosky, and several House and Senate members have expressed concern that the VA’s strict interpretation of the 40 mile rule is limiting eligibility for the program. Under the Interim Final Rule, the 40 mile distance is measured from a veteran’s residence to the nearest VA medical facility, even if that facility cannot provide the care that the veteran needs. Furthermore, it ignores travel times, which vary widely across the country, and it measures the distance as a direct line, rather than the actual route a veteran would travel to access the VA facility.

“When Congress passed the Veterans Choice program, we intended the program to be widely available to ensure that all veterans receive timely access to medical appointments. I am hopeful that the Secretary will work with us to ensure that veterans who want to seek healthcare outside the VA through the Choice Program, or VA’s other non-VA care authorities, can do so,” said Brownley.

“Honoring our nation’s veterans by improving their access to medical care – whether it is reducing waiting times, increasing the options available, or decreasing the time and distance to medical facilities all without compromising quality – is quite simply the right thing to do. We strongly encourage the VA to take a more reasonable approach to geographic-based eligibility criteria for the Veterans Choice Program,” said Visclosky.

Currently, many veterans have to travel distances that significantly exceed 40 miles in order to access certain specialty care or inpatient services, because the smaller Community-Based Outpatient Clinic or VA facility near their home offers only limited medical services. The Brownley-Visclosky letter urges VA Secretary Robert McDonald to use the authority provided under the Choice Act to take into account travel time and to ensure that the VA considers whether the facility being measured actually offers the health care service that the veteran needs.

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