Lance introduces bill to open Veterans Choice Program to all

A federal rule that limits eligibility for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Choice Program would be stricken under legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ).

Currently, the rule stipulates that only veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility may seek care from private community providers outside of the program. Lance’s proposal, the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, H.R. 2037, would drop the 40-mile rule and all veterans would become eligible for the Veterans Choice Program.

“There is no reason why one veteran should have access to this successful program while another veteran in a nearby community cannot participate.” Lance said Aug. 24. “The Veterans Choice Program should be open to any veteran who served the nation, no matter where he or she lives.”

Lance also pointed out that for military veterans who live in rural areas within the 40-mile limit, the rule doesn’t take into account a veteran’s physical limitations, access to or assistance with transportation and traffic, nor other impediments to timely travel.

The Veterans Choice Program was implemented in response to the 2014 wait-time scandal that revealed a pattern of patient negligence at the VA, where critics charged it took longer than the requisite 14 days to get an appointment. Since then more than 1.8 million veterans have been able to schedule upwards of 21 million appointments with non-VA medical providers. Even more vets could schedule more appointments without the 40-mile rule, said Lance.

The Association of the United States Navy has come out in support of H.R. 2037, which has been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.