Veterans Choice Program, Choice Card, accelerate and improve access to care

Under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA), the Department of Veterans Affairs began providing eligible Veterans the option to receive necessary health care—including mental health care and counseling for Military Sexual Trauma (MST)—from non-VA providers, rather than requiring them to either wait for a VA appointment or to travel long distances to visit a VA facility.

Under the Veterans Choice Program, Veterans can use the Veterans Choice Card to receive non-VA care if they meet one or more of the following eligibility requirements:

  • Their current residence is more than 40 miles from the closest VA health care facility
  • They need to travel by plane or boat to the VA medical facility closest to their home
  • They were told by their local VA facility they will need to wait more than 30 days for an appointment
  • They face an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to a VA medical facility based on the presence of a body of water (including moving water and still water) or a geologic formation that cannot be crossed by road

In an open letter to all Veterans introducing the Choice Program and Choice Card, VA Secretary Bob McDonald said, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we have one of the most noble and inspiring missions in Government. I accepted this job and joined this mission to better serve you — our Veterans — and improve the delivery of the care and benefits you have earned. It is our privilege to serve you, and I have made clear that as we move forward as a Department, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric — the outcomes we provide for Veterans.”

The basic premise of the Choice Program is to improve those outcomes by removing obstacles to receiving care from the VA faced by many Veterans and allowing them to receive that same care from non-VA providers instead. The Choice Card itself is not a blank check or bottomless credit card, but serves as an informational insurance card that verifies the Veteran was approved by a VA care coordinator to receive non-VA services. Eligible Veterans began receiving Choice Cards in the mail, along with an introductory letter explaining the new program, last November.

The first phase of the roll-out targeted Veterans living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. A few weeks later, letters and Choice Cards went out to Veterans waiting more than 30 days from their preferred date for an appointment at a VA facility. The final phase of the roll-out includes all remaining Veterans enrolled for VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

Use of the Choice Program does not impact existing VA health care or any other VA benefit. Veterans satisfied with their current wait-time and who wish to continue waiting for VA care, rather than seeking care from a non-VA provider, don’t need to take any action at this time.

Veterans who are interested in setting up an appointment with a non-VA provider must first confirm their eligibility for the Choice Program, then call 866-606-8198 to arrange for care in their local community. It is important to note non-VA care is only covered by the VA for medical needs approved by a VA physician.

In addition to the near-term relief provided by the Choice Program, the VA is also implementing long-term solutions to address long wait times and gaps in care through the Accelerating Care Initiative, which launched in the summer of 2014. Through this initiative, VA medical centers improved access to care, added more clinic hours/days, and deployed mobile medical units. Resulting improvements on the national scale include: reducing the national new patient primary care wait time by 18 percent; completing 98 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veterans’ preferred date (or the date determined by a physician to be medically necessary); and authorizing 1.1 million non-VA care authorizations, a 47 percent increase over the same time period the previous year.