What is The Veterans Choice Program (VCP)?
The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) was created in 2014 to help veterans get easier access to health care. Through this program, veterans can get health care from non-VA community providers paid for by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
VCP pays for eligible veterans to get non-VA health care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or if the VA is unable to offer an appointment within 30 days.
Veterans also become eligible for VCP if the VA doesn’t offer the services veterans need. This is helpful for veterans with mesothelioma because most VA medical facilities are not equipped to provide multimodal therapy.
Multimodal therapy is the gold standard of mesothelioma treatment. It involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Sometimes it involves heated chemotherapy, which requires special equipment.
The first heated chemotherapy procedure for mesothelioma performed at a VA medical facility happened in 2015 at the VA Boston Healthcare System’s West Roxbury Campus. This medical center remains the only VA facility with the equipment required to perform heated chemotherapy. Veterans with mesothelioma can travel to Boston, but most prefer to receive treatment near their home.
Approximately five VA treatment centers offer specialized treatment for mesothelioma:
- VA Boston Healthcare System
- West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
- Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center in Miami
- Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston
- Atlanta VA Medical Center
The Veterans Choice Program helps veterans with mesothelioma who live more than 40 miles away from these VA medical facilities access the specialized care their diagnosis requires.
On April 18, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act (S.544) into law. The act allowed the Veterans Choice Program to continue operating until the remaining $950 million in funds are exhausted.
In October 2021, VA leaders announced a phasing out of the Office of Community Care, which is the department that oversees the Veterans Choice Program. Its responsibilities will be transferred to a new department known as the Office for Integrated Veterans Care.
Who Is Eligible for the Veterans Choice Program?
Veterans may seek care through the Veterans Choice Program based on one or more of the following conditions:
- VA cannot provide services the veteran needs
- VA can’t make an appointment for the veteran at the nearest facility within 30 days
- Veteran lives more than 40 miles away from the nearest VA medical facility
- Veteran has to travel by air, boat or ferry to reach the nearest VA medical facility
- Veteran experiences an excessive burden traveling to the nearest VA medical facility
Those who qualify for the program because the VA can’t make an appointment within 30 days are called “waitlist-eligible.” Those who qualify based on travel issues are called “distance-eligible.” These designations affect how veterans make appointments within the VCP system.
How VCP Works for Veterans with Mesothelioma
Veterans with mesothelioma particularly benefit from the Veterans Choice Program because their condition is rare and only a few VA clinics have mesothelioma specialists. This means many veterans with mesothelioma are likely eligible for the program because most VA facilities do not offer the services these patients need.
Still, every veteran must contact the VA to get pre-approved to use the VCP.
- The first step to using the Veterans Choice Program is getting approval from the VA. Veterans must call the Choice Program Support Line at 866-606-8198 to confirm eligibility and receive approval from the VA.
- Distance-eligible veterans must call the support line to make an approved medical appointment through VCP.
- Waitlist-eligible veterans will receive a call from a VA partner to make an approved appointment.
- Veterans do not need a VA-issued Choice Card to receive care, but a card will be issued anyway.
All medical appointments are made through the VCP. Veterans cannot make appointments on their own and expect the program to cover the expenses. If the VA does not pre-approve and make the appointment, they will not cover costs associated with treatment.
Prescriptions Are Reimbursed
The only part of the program that involves reimbursement is prescriptions. Veterans can fill prescriptions at any non-VA pharmacy and submit a request for reimbursement to the VA. However, prescriptions that must be taken longer than 14 days must be filled at a VA pharmacy.
Beneficiary Travel Program
A veteran’s travel costs to see a non-VA doctor may be covered by the VA’s Beneficiary Travel program.
This program offers reimbursement for mileage and other costs of transportation. Eligible veterans must have a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or more.
Veterans with service-connected mesothelioma are given a disability rating of 100 percent.