Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday announced proposed rules that will provide access standards for community care and urgent care provisions for veterans.
The rules, expected to take effect in June, will effectively allow veterans to receive care at private healthcare facilities, within the limits the VA has set.
The new access standards are the result of the MISSION Act, signed into law in June 2018 by President Donald Trump, and will launch the new program based on six points of criteria: services unavailable, residence in a state without a full-service VA medical facility, living more than 40 miles from a VA facility, best medical interest or needing other care based on VA standards and access rules.
Since 2014, the VA averaged more than three million appointments each year, but the number ballooned to 58 million in 2018. The VA attributes that boom to the high quality and great reputation of care.
VA says their current system with seven separate community care programs is difficult for veterans, their families and VA employees to navigate. The agency expects the new rule to improve the situation.
"Our new access standards will form the basis of a federal regulation that will consolidate VA's community care efforts into a single, simple-to-use program that puts Veterans at the center of their VA health care decisions," Robert Wilkie, Secretary of the VA, said in a statement released Monday, ahead of the announcement.
"Strict and confusing qualification criteria like driving distances and proximity to VA facilities that don't offer needed services will be replaced by eligibility guidelines based on what matters most: the convenience of our Veteran customers," Wilkie said.
Access standards are determined by average drive time or wait times for appointments, with a proposed 30-minute drive time standard for primary care, mental health and non-institutional extended care services.
For specialty care, the agency proposes a 60-minute average drive time standard. And for primary care, mental health care and non-institutional extended care services, the VA has proposed appointment wait-time standards of 20 days.
"Most Americans can already choose the health care providers that they trust, and President Trump promised that Veterans would be able to do the same," Wilkie said. "With VA's new access standards, the future of the VA health care system will lie in the hands of Veterans -- exactly where it should be."