The Senate has passed a bill further expanding a law giving veterans easier access to federally paid medical care from private doctors. The bill relaxes a rule that makes getting specialized care from local doctors difficult for some veterans in rural areas. Senators approved the measure by voice vote Friday. The Senate bill would open up private care to veterans who live within 40 miles of a medical facility run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, so long as the VA site does not offer the needed care.
If this bill is passed by the House and signed into law, it would mark the second change in 2015 to the so-called “40-mile Rule.” That designation is the boundary requiring veterans to demonstrate that they live at least 40 miles from a VA health site in order to obtain private care. The Associated Press investigated this new legislation in a recent article titled “Senate tweaks health law to boost specialized care.”
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., thinks that the VA was deliberately interpreting the 40-mile Rule to deny veterans needed care; however, the VA recently tweaked the rule. It now measures the 40 miles by driving distance, rather than in a straight line. Moran, who’s the sponsor of the Senate bill, said it "puts the veteran first and provides the fix the VA says they need to make certain that veterans are not dismissed or forgotten just because of where they live."
Lawmakers have been working to make changes in recent months. Many far fewer veterans were receiving treatment offered under the Veterans Choice law than were originally anticipated. As you know, this law was adopted last year after the VA scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care and falsified records covering up delays.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was quoted by the AP as saying that the approved change would "ensure veterans can receive care outside of the VA health care system if they face geographic or travel burdens, have a medical condition that would impact their ability to travel or for other factors that may be determined by the VA."