WASHINGTON, D.C. I The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) announced Tuesday it will alter its “40-mile rule” to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural areas.
The announcement follows U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s request that the VA re-examine the rule’s application and update it. The VA’s new rule will allow more veterans who would have to travel more than 40 miles to a VA medical facility to access non-VA community care, which was Congress’ intent when it passed the Veterans Choice Act.
“Our goal is to make health care more accessible and available to our veterans, and it should be as simple, convenient and easy as possible,” Bennet said. “This is a common-sense change that will help Colorado’s veterans who live in rural communities. Along with this step, there’s more we can do to ease access to care for them. We’ll continue to work in Congress and with the VA to ensure our veterans receive timely care when they need it.”
Last July, Congress passed the Veterans’ Choice Act, which permits veterans to access non-VA community care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or their wait time for an appointment is more than 30 days. Currently, the VA measures the distance between a veteran’s home and a VA facility using the straight-line distance, which may not accurately account for the distance traveled, particularly for Colorado’s veterans who may have to travel around mountainous terrain. The new rule would require the VA to begin using the driving distance for a veteran.
During the Senate Finance Committee’s consideration of the Hire More Heroes Act, Bennet offered two amendments to address the 40-mile rule.
The first amendment would change the way that 40 miles is measured to account for the actual distance traveled, rather than the straight-line distance between the veteran and the VA medical center.
A second amendment would allow veterans to access non-VA care if they live within 40 miles from a VA facility but the services they require are not offered at that VA facility. Bennet is also a cosponsor of the Veterans Access to Community Care Act, which would address both issues.
Although the VA was able to update the geographic straight line application of the rule, the agency said it would take a legislative fix to allow veterans to access non-VA care if they live within 40 miles of a VA medical facility but the care or service they require is not offered.
Bennet will continue to press for that change.