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First wave of 'Choice Cards' mailed out

Military Update

The Department of Veterans Affairs has mailed its first medical “Choice Cards,” with letters explaining how to use them, to 320,000 VA-enrolled veterans who reside more than 40 miles from any type of VA medical facility.

By late November, another 370,000 vets, those facing waits longer than 30 days for VA appointments, will be the second group to get the cards, said Dr. James Tuchschmidt, VA’s acting principal deputy under secretary for health.

These are the two groups of vets eligible immediately to use information on their Choice Card to try to secure more convenient or timely care than VA can provide.

By the end of January another 8 million enrolled veterans also will receive Choice Cards. These vets, however, won’t be eligible to use them to access non-VA care unless they move beyond 40 miles of a VA-owned medical facility or VA can’t provide care within 30 days.

The 30-day window is based on a veteran’s preferred date to get care or the date deemed medically necessary by their physicians.

To receive a Choice Card, veterans must have been enrolled in VA health care by Aug. 1, 2014. Those who have enrolled later are eligible only if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations in the previous five years.

As vet advocacy groups have cautioned for months, the Choice Card is not a golden key to unlimited health care from any physician or facility a veteran might choose, despite what some lawmakers touted last summer while making it the featured item of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

“It is important to know that the Choice Card does not provide guaranteed health care coverage or an unlimited medical benefit,” explains VA Secretary Robert McDonald in a letter to the first card recipients.

“In fact, before your Choice Card for this benefit can be used, your eligibility must be verified and you must receive advance authorization from VA.”

The card itself is similar to most health insurance cards, with the holder’s name shown and a number to call to verify eligibility for outside care. Authorization to use it must be cleared by a program manager for every episode of care.

Those authorized to seek outside care can choose from a network of VA-approved providers or their own providers, if VA approved.

To be approved, they must treat Medicare patients and accept Medicare rates or work at a Department of Defense or Indian Health Service facility or in a federally qualified health center.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

[email protected]