About the Choice Program
In 2014 the VA created the Choice Program for Veterans who lived more than 40 miles from a Veterans Administration Healthcare facility. Under the Choice Program, a Veteran could call the VA healthcare facility he was assigned to, explain he lived more than 40 miles away and wanted to visit a healthcare facility closer to his home. The VA would coordinate care for the Veteran and make arrangements for the VA to pay the bill. At least this is the way the program was designed to work.
Unfortunately, many of these rural healthcare providers have gone unpaid for months and in some cases years. Veterans are receiving bills in the thousands of dollars from facilities they thought had been paid long ago threatening to take the money from their bank accounts.
Change is Coming
In June 2018 Congress got involved, passing a massive overhaul called The VA Mission Act. One of the many items addressed by this bill is the requirement that the VA will have to pay bills to Choice providers within 30 days when filed electronically or 45 days when filed by mail. If these bills are not paid on time, they will begin to accrue interest, something Congress does not want to pay.
To make sure this is happening, the VA is required to report to Congress each month the number of claims outstanding, how many days late each payment is, and how much interest is due on the arrearage.
The law gives Congress authority to hire an outside company to handle these payments on behalf of the VA if Congress finds the VA cannot fix the problems that exist. However, it is expected the VA will be given some time to correct the situation.
Not a Done Deal
The VA Mission Act is long overdue, but don’t look for these corrections to take place tomorrow. The bill is still working its way through the Rulemaking process in Congress. It could be some time before implementation begins.
In the meantime, if you are contacted by a provider about an overdue bill from the VA, a toll-free number (877-881-7618) has been established for you to call. Don’t wait until your credit has been affected.
Last month we introduced you to the fact that the VA does offer benefits to caregivers of Veterans. Since that report, a major bill known as the VA Mission Act, has passed Congress with a 92-5 vote. Items included in this bill include streamlining access to medical care at non-VA community centers when similar treatment is not available at the local VA center, the creation of new VA “walk-in clinics,” as well as beginning a new program for caregivers.
The highlight of the bill is the expansion of caregiver benefits, which include a monthly stipend, health insurance, respite care, and training, to caregivers of veterans severely injured before 9-11 back to the Vietnam War era. With this expansion of benefits, Veterans of all eras are now to be cared for.
Once the VA certifies the program is ready to launch, it will take place in two phases. The first phase is slated to begin in early 2019 and will apply to veterans injured in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. Phase 2 will begin two years later and will apply to caregivers of veterans who were injured in the line of duty after May 7, 1975 but before September 11, 2001.
These benefits have been available to post-911 veterans, but they were never applied back to the Veterans of Vietnam and their caregivers. This program is long overdue. Thank you, VA, for correcting this terrible injustice.
Ivanna Brown is one of 10 athletes selected for the Women Veteran Athletes Initiative. The participants represent all branches of the armed services and were selected by the VA and its partners — the Veterans Canteen Service, Team Red, White & Blue, the Semper Fi Fund and Comcast.
Ivanna, who is half-British and half-Jamaican, joined the U.S. Air Force on a green card even before she earned her U.S. citizenship. Her stepfather, who was an American citizen, was in the Air Force. Following his example, Ivanna joined the military following high school graduation in Germany at age 19.
At age 25 Ivanna Brown’s military career ended with a tragic car accident which left her a paraplegic. Ivanna chose to fight and find a new life, and she is proud to be a two-time participant in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
The clinic exposed Ivanna to many different athletic pursuits, and she has become an avid participant in dragon boat racing and rowing. Hand cycling has become a daily activity as well.
The clinic is hosted by the VA in partnership with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) once a year. Participation is open to active-duty service members and Veterans with spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, and certain neurological problems and disabilities. For more information about the winter sports clinic, visit www.wintersportsclinic.org.
Visit the Center for Women Veterans website to see photos of each athlete by Veterans Portrait Project photographer Stacy Pearsall. Find more on social media at @deptvetaffairs (Twitter, Instagram) and @VAWomenVets (Twitter, Facebook) and by following #WomenVetAthletes.
The program provides:
- Peer support mentoring,
- A support phone line, and
- A website with a wealth of resources on family caregiving.
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, a program specifically for eligible Post 9/11 Veterans and their caregivers, offers additional support and services, including access to health insurance and financial assistance. The primary family caregiver must meet certain criteria but is not required to be the Veteran’s spouse.
Click here to learn more about the Caregiver Support Program.