(Washington, DC) - Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)—ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs—issued the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a change to the Veterans Choice Program's “40-mile rule.” The Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to receive health care outside of the VA if they have to travel more than 40 miles to receive VA care or if they face more than a 30-day wait time for care at a VA facility. Currently, the distance eligibility is calculated "as the crow flies,” leaving many veterans ineligible. The change announced today will allow the 40-mile provision to be calculated by driving distance, and will significantly increase the number of veterans who can take advantage of this program.
"This rule change commendably relies on common sense, rather than flying crows, in assessing the real life burdens of distance to veterans seeking health care,” Blumenthal said. "The VA's response to repeated calls for this step—from public officials, veterans organizations, and advocates—means that distance will be determined by road mileage, not an arbitrary geodesic map line. Readier access to better care for all veterans must be a continuing urgent priority. For elderly, ill or disabled veterans, traveling long distances to VA medical centers can be difficult or impossible and can significantly impact their ability to receive care. Veterans deserve the highest-quality health care, and should not be denied this right simply because of where they live."
At a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on February 26, Senator Blumenthal pressed Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on this very issue, urging a change to the "40-mile rule” as it could be the cause for significant under-utilization of the Veterans Choice Program. At that time, the Veterans Choice program—estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost $10 billion—had only resulted in 30,000 veteran appointments since the program was launched on November 5, 2014. "The clock is ticking, and real money is authorized for this program. There’s a sense of urgency in this committee, and I hope that you will take very strong and urgent action,” Blumenthal said. Secretary McDonald testified in response that VA would soon present new alternatives for redefining that 40-mile restriction.