It’s about to get a lot easier for veterans to get the health care services they need.
New federal legislation which becomes law this week is designed to reduce the backlog at Veterans Affairs Health Clinics and cut down on travel time for vets to see their doctor.
The Mission Act was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in Congress last year. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie calls the new law “the most important piece of veteran’s legislation passed since the G.I. Bill.”
Under the Mission Act, veterans with VA health benefits now have options when it comes to their care.
“As long as the veteran is in the VA system, he’s covered,” said Martin Longoria, veterans service officer for Nueces County.
Starting June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, veterans who live more than a 30-minute drive from the nearest VA facility can instead see a private doctor from the VA’s Community Care Network at no extra cost. The Corpus Christi VA clinic not only serves Nueces County, but seven surrounding counties as well.
“It’s just offering more opportunities to veterans who live in the surrounding counties to where if they can’t make the trip for whatever reason, they have the ability to see somebody in their own town,” said Longoria.
For some vets, the problem isn’t getting to an appointment as much as it’s getting an appointment at all. Now, if a veteran’s wait time is longer than 20 days, they can go see the doctor of their choice, also at no cost. According to Longoria, 20-day waits aren’t uncommon.
“I’ve heard stories where it’s longer, but then again it’s also the lack of providers,” Longoria said.
The VA healthcare system has been criticized for years. While the Mission Act addresses some of that criticism, the county’s veterans services officer says don’t expect overnight improvement.
“Like everything else, it’s going to have its obstacles along the way; but like everything else, you’re going to work through it, and it will smooth itself out,” said Longoria.
Veterans need to be enrolled in or be eligible for VA healthcare to qualify. The VA also needs to approve the care, but as long as the veteran is eligible they should be approved.
There’s also a benefit for doctors who care for vets. Under the Mission Act, doctors who choose to work in a VA clinic for at least two years are eligible to have their student loans paid off by the VA.