Note: This article is the third in a series on VA’s progress implementing the VA MISSION Act of 2018.
VA recently proposed new rules for Veteran community care that include six new eligibility criteria for Veterans under the VA MISSION Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in June 2018.
The new eligibility criteria will be a major improvement over existing criteria in terms of making things simpler: currently, eligibility criteria vary between VA’s community care programs. When the new criteria go into effect, Veterans can expect better access and greater choice in their health care, whether at VA or through a community provider.
The eligibility criteria are projected to go into effect in June 2019 after final regulations are published and effective, so the criteria are not yet final. In addition, key aspects of community care eligibility include the following:
- Veterans must receive approval from VA prior to obtaining care from a community provider in most circumstances.
- Veterans must either be enrolled in VA health care or be eligible for VA care without needing to enroll to be eligible for community care.
- Eligibility for community care will continue to be dependent upon a Veteran’s individual health care needs or circumstances.
- VA staff members generally make all eligibility determinations.
- Veterans will usually have the option to receive care at a VA medical facility regardless of their eligibility for community care.
- Meeting any one of six eligibility criteria listed below is sufficient to be referred to a community provider—a Veteran does not have to meet all of them to be eligible. (Real-world examples of when a Veteran would be eligible for community care are included in the eligibility fact sheet linked at the end of the article).
- Veteran Needs a Service Not Available at a VA Medical Facility
In this situation, a Veteran needs a specific type of care or service that VA does not provide in-house at any of its medical facilities.
- Veteran Lives in a U.S. State or Territory Without a Full-Service VA Medical Facility
In this scenario, a Veteran lives in a U.S. State or territory that does not have a full-service VA medical facility. Specifically, this would apply to Veterans living in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Veteran Qualifies under the “Grandfather” Provision Related to Distance Eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program
For this element, there are a few different ways that a Veteran could be eligible for community care. Initially, the following two requirements must be met in every case:
- Veteran was eligible under the 40-mile criterion under the Veterans Choice Program on the day before the VA MISSION Act was enacted into law (June 6, 2018), and
- Veteran continues to reside in a location that would qualify them under that criterion.
If both of these requirements have been met, a Veteran may be eligible if one of the following is also true:
- Veteran lives in one of the five States with the lowest population density from the 2010 Census: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Alaska, and Wyoming, or
- lives in another State,
- received care between June 6, 2017, and June 6, 2018, and
- requires care before June 6, 2020
- VA Cannot Furnish Care within Certain Designated Access Standards
To be eligible under this criterion, Veterans must meet specific access standards for average drive time or appointment wait-times.
The specific access standards are described below. (Important: Access standards are proposed and not yet final).
Average drive time to a specific VA medical facility
- 30-minute average drive time for primary care, mental health, and non-institutional extended care services (including adult day health care)
- 60-minute average drive time for specialty care
Appointment wait time at a specific VA medical facility
- 20 days for primary care, mental health care, and non-institutional extended care services, unless the Veteran agrees to a later date in consultation with their VA health care provider
- 28 days for specialty care from the date of request, unless the Veteran agrees to a later date in consultation with their VA health care provider
- It Is in the Veteran’s Best Medical Interest
In this situation, a Veteran may be referred to a community provider when the Veteran and the referring clinician agree that it is in their best medical interest to see a community provider.
- A VA Medical Service Line Does Not Meet Certain Quality Standards
In this scenario, if VA has identified a medical service line is not meeting VA’s standards for quality based on specific conditions, Veterans can elect to receive care from a community provider with certain limitations.
What is described above should be taken as a preview of what the final eligibility criteria may be, because it is not yet final. The new criteria are expected to go into effect in June 2019, after final regulations are published and effective.
Jonathan Ludwig is the communication lead for VHA’s Office of Community Care.