FLEMINGTON, NJ - Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th) has introduced the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act in the House of Representatives to do away with the "40-mile rule" determining eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program.
The "40-mile rule" allows veterans who live greater than 40 miles from a V.A. care facility to seek private care outside of the V.A. system. Lance’s measure would end that restriction and enable any veteran, anywhere to access the Choice Program.
“A veteran in rural New Jersey lives over an hour away from the V.A. New Jersey Health Care System hospitals in Lyons and East Orange," Lance said. "While it may be fewer than 40 miles on paper, this rule by the Veterans Administration does not take into account physical limitations of the veteran, access to or assistance with transportation and traffic and other impediments to timely travel.
"There is no reason why one veteran should have access to this successful program while another veteran in a nearby community cannot participate," Lance added. "The Veterans Choice Program should be open to any veteran who served the nation, no matter where he or she lives.”
Lance recently supported an additional $2 billion in funding for the Veterans Choice Program.
Instituted in the wake of the wait-time scandal, the Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to seek private care outside of the Veterans Administration system. Choice appointments are up dramatically. Since its inception, the program has resulted in more than 21.6 million appointments, serving more than1.8 million veterans.
The "40-mile rule" does not allow veterans that live within 40 miles of a V.A. hospital to participate. But Lance and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat who represents the U.S. terriroty of Guam, the lead Democratic lawmaker on the bill, believe this threshold is too high and does not consider the limitations veterans may have with traveling a significant distance for medical care.
Bob Looby, a leader in the American Legion, backs Lance’s bill.
“Many of us veterans disagree with the "40 mile rule" and deeply appreciate Congressman Lance’s effort to eliminate this unfair and burdensome rule," Looby said. "Veterans should not be required to drive 39 miles for simple tests and diagnostics. We need high performing, fully integrated networks of care throughout the country for our younger veterans as well as our aging WWII, Korea and Vietnam brothers and sisters.
"Our congressional leaders must also demand the same type of services of typical citizens who make appointments the same day or within two days, to see their primary physician and slightly longer for specialists<" Looby said. "The VA also must streamline statutory requirements, appointment processes, access rules and outside provider agreements.”
The Association of the United States Navy also weighed in supporting the bill.
Michael J. Little, director of Legislative Affairs, wrote to the lawmakers, “On behalf of the Association of the United States Navy, we would like to pledge our support for H.R. 2037. This bill would amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to expand and make permanent the Veterans Choice Program."
Lance’s measure has been referred to the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs.