Changes coming to where veterans can see a doctor

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LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (WATE) – New rules are set to go into effect for the Veteran Community Care Program, under the VA Mission Act. The rules will change who is eligible to see a community doctor, instead of only VA medical centers. Right now, under the program, a veteran could go to a private doctor, instead of a VA clinic, if they live more than away or if there is a 30-day wait time.

The changes aren’t final, but the latest round of proposed changes includes: 

The proposed changes include for primary care, you have to prove there is an average 30-minute drive time or a 20-day wait. For specialty care, you have to prove there is a one-hour average drive time, or wait period of 28 days 

There is also a provision, set to begin next month, that allows a veteran to access select urgent care facilities. 

Kevin Walden, director of veteran affairs in Campbell County, works to help veterans get access to the benefits they need, including healthcare. He drives to Jellico weekly, so veterans there don’t have to drive to him. In Campbell County, Walden said, there are roughly 3,000 veterans. Many of them suffer from hearing loss, which he said is most common, a bad back, orthopedic issues, or issues relating to Agent Orange. 

While the county does have a primary care VA clinic, it doesn’t offer some specialty service offered in Nashville, Knoxville and Johnson City. Their clinic, he explained is for check-ups and medicine updates. Things include sleep studies, MRIs, colonoscopies, gastrointestinal or hearing tests require a veteran to drive. 

Walden said he believes extending access to private providers could work as an incentive for the VA to expand programs to rural areas.

“Most of the veterans, if they have to drive and it’s that inconvenient, they won’t go for healthcare. They won’t get treated. They’ll succumb to illnesses and diseases that come with not being treated,” he said.

He said many will “suffer in silence,” especially older veterans who don’t own a car or don’t drive on the highway.

“We’re the best country in the world, and we need to take care of those who helped us be that number one country in the world,” he said.

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