Larsen Improves Health Care Access for Veterans By Helping VA Understand Unique PNW Geography

Apr 2, 2015 Issues: Veterans

WASHINGTON—Reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will work better for Pacific Northwest veterans as a result of efforts by Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02. Larsen successfully pressed the VA to improve access to care for veterans in Northwest Washington who face geographical barriers because of the region’s unique environment, including veterans living in South and Central Whidbey Island who must drive across Deception Pass to Mount Vernon or take a ferry to Seattle before they reach a VA doctor.

Under the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, which Congress passed last year, certain veterans can obtain health care with a non-VA practitioner, including veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. This benefit also applies to veterans who must travel by ferry to reach VA care. Initially, the VA calculated distance from a VA facility by drawing a straight line on a map, regardless of driving distance.

“Passing the VA reform bill last year was an important first step toward making sure veterans have access to timely health care. Now we have to make sure the law works. That is why I pressed the VA to improve access to care for veterans who face a long drive because of the unique Pacific Northwest geography.

“I brought this challenge to the VA’s attention to help its leadership understand that reaching VA facilities is not a simple drive for many of my constituents, including those living in South and Central Whidbey Island. I am pleased the VA is now moving forward with a common-sense solution that will enable more veterans to get care with doctors who are more accessible to them,” Larsen said.

The VA recently announced it would use a 40-mile driving distance rather than a straight-line distance to make this eligibility calculation.

This announcement followed Larsen’s request to the Secretary in October to consider the unique geography of the Puget Sound region when determining what qualifies as a ‘geographic burden’ for travel to receive health care.

“My office is available to help veterans who need assistance navigating these changes, and I will keep pushing to make sure reforms are making a positive difference for veterans in our communities,” Larsen said.

Veterans who believe they are eligible for non-VA care should confirm by contacting the VA at 18666068198.

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