Health Care News

Veterans Get More Options for Care

As a result of the MISSION Act signed into law last year with bipartisan support, the Veterans Administration has established the Veterans Community Care Program, which will offer veterans expanded care options from non-VA providers including Community Health Centers. Under the new program, veterans facing a wait of 20 days or more, or who must drive more than 30 minutes to the nearest VA health center, will be granted access to private care. The expanded policy kicked off on June 6.

“To ensure our Veterans are spending their time getting care instead of driving to it, patients facing an average drive time of 30 minutes or more for VA primary or mental healthcare, or non-institutional extended care services, will have the option of choosing a community provider closer to home. For specialty care, the drive-time standard will be an average of 60 minutes,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a press release.

Momentum to boost access to care for veterans came after a series of highly publicized reports about long waiting times at VA health care facilities. By opening up access points in the private sector and among health centers, veterans will have more options for care in the community. The VA is expected to have more than 548,000 providers participating in the network, according to published reports. Health centers already serve more than 355,000 veterans, and counting (there has been a 55 percent increase since 2008).

For qualified veterans, options under the new “Community Care” program include:

  • Seeing a community-based provider if the wait for an appointment at a VA provider is over 20 days or drive time is more than 30 minutes.
  • Receiving “urgent care” from non-VA providers.

These changes were included in the VA MISSION Act and consolidated the VA CHOICE and related programs.  Health centers interested in participating in the Community Care program are advised to reach out to:

  • The local VA Medical Center (VAMC) Community Care Office to alert them to your interest and availability to be community provider
  • Tri-West, the VA’s interim Third Party Administrator (TPA), which is responsible for establishing provider agreements for current community providers to see referred Veterans while the “new” TPA gets set up.
  • OptumServe, the “new” TPA which is in the process of establishing community provider networks starting VA regions 1 and 2  

A toolkit explaining the current status and future plans of the VA’s “Community Care” program and a fact sheet explaining how health centers can become approved providers are available on the Health Center Resource Clearinghouse and on