On Aug. 7, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law HR 3230, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.
Since that time, the Ward County Veterans Service Office has been receiving queries on how it is going to affect area veterans who currently use VA healthcare, said Dale Braun, Ward County Veterans Service officer.
Braun contacted the Fargo VA Health Care System on Aug. 13 in regard to the new law. The Public Affairs representative at the Fargo VA Health Care System said that as of that time, they have received no guidance concerning administration of the new law. The spokeswoman there said VA had 90 days to develop rules for administering the program.
In researching the elements of HR 3230, Braun said it appears the act may impact some local veterans, but the true impact won't be known for three to four months.
He said what they know is:
1. This was just signed in to law, and expect it will be at least three to four months before it is implemented.
2. A veteran must have been enrolled in the VA health care system by Aug. 1, 2014, to qualify, or must have served in a combat zone within the last five years.
3. A veteran must live at least 40 miles from a VA health care facility, or must have waited at least 30 days for an appointment at a VA health care facility. There is a VA Community-Based Outreach Clinic at Minot Air Force Base. From experience, local veterans seldom have a wait time exceeding 30 days to be seen at the Minot AFB CBOC. VA has some leeway in applying the 30-day criteria. Also, most of the veterans who use the CBOC live within 40 miles of the Minot AFB CBOC. There are veterans who must travel almost 300 miles for specialty care at the Fargo VA Medical Center. These veterans may be affected by the new law.
4. Currently, non-VA health care is provided by the VA for some veterans. Non-VA health care must be approved by the VA, usually with a referral from one of the doctors at the Minot AFB VA Clinic. This requirement will probably remain in place. A veteran can't just go to a private hospital and expect VA to pay. It won't happen!
5. The bill is many pages long. VA is just starting to develop the rules, so watch for updates. "I expect this to be a major administrative headache for them, so anticipate problems," he said.