Pressure from Scott and Colleagues Leads to VA Rule Change, Increased Access to Care for Veterans

Washington -As reported this morning, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will change a key definition in its “distance rule” for the newly created Veterans Choice health program. The VA’s action comes after U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) joined Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and 39 of their Senate colleagues earlier this year in calling on the VA to change the rule. The full text of the bipartisan letter to the VA is available HERE.

The Veterans Choice program, which provides veterans with the ability to access non-VA facilities if they live more than 40 miles from or cannot schedule an appointment at a VA facility, initially defined 40 miles as a straight line distance from a veteran’s residence to a VA health care facility. This definition did not take into account the driving distance, which can be significantly longer than the straight-line distance based on road routes.

“Today’s announcement by the VA is a good first step towards ensuring the Veterans Choice program provides the access to care that Congress mandated,” Scott said. “Anyone who has driven in a car for more than five minutes realizes that roads do not always go in a straight line, and to calculate mileage based on how the crow flies simply does not make sense. I will continue working to ensure our veterans have access to the quality care they were promised.”

Scott also reiterated the importance of reassessing the facility on which the VA bases the 40-mile distance calculation. For example, if a veteran is within 40 miles of an outpatient clinic, but needs cancer services at a hospital more than 40 miles away, they are currently unable to access the hospital through the Veterans Choice program. Senator Scott has signed on as a cosponsor of the Veterans Access to Community Care Act (S. 207) to fix this issue.

The Veterans Choice Program was created last summer as part of a bipartisan VA reform package supported by Senator Scott.