There is an old saying that goes like this: “This is about as clear as mud!” And that sure applies to the continuing, never-ending and always-changing rules and regulations of our VA health-care system. Seems the only consistency of this department is it’s inconsistency.

Most of you veterans who are registered with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, have recently received a letter from Richard Stone, M. D., executive in charge, Office of the Under Secretary for Health. The intent of the letter is to make you aware of “Your Enhanced Options for Care Through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).” Dr. Stone refers to the “landmark law” named the “Mission Act of 2018.” The acronym ‘MISSION’ stands for “Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks.” The act is yet again another thrust by the VA, to “strengthen the VA’s ability to deliver the best care and services at VA sites AND in the community.” And as further explained, “It helps VA deliver trusted, easy to access, high quality care at VA facilities, virtually through telehealth, and in your community. That means you get the care and services you need, where and when you need them.” Dr. Stone’s letter goes on to say, “This letter and the enclosed brochure are the first step in educating Veterans about the CHANGES VA is making under this NEW LAW”.

The letter continues: “Here is what you can expect: + A single, simple VA community care program, that puts you at the center of your healthcare decisions, + Expanded eligibility criteria for community care, including new access standards, + Easier scheduling of appointments in VA’s community care network, + A new urgent/walk-in care benefit through a network of walk-in RETAIL HEALTH CLINICS and URGENT CARE facilities, + Continued strong relationships with VA providers and staff who provide your care and WILL FACILITATE ACCESS to the community care network.”

The brochure, “Enhanced VA Options Under the MISSION Act”, which was attached with the letter, covers 6 topics: health-care eligibility; community care eligibility; urgent/walk-in care; copayments and insurance; access standards and standards for quality; and compaint and appeals process. If you did not receive this letter and brochure, you may go into Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida and get a copy of the brochure. It can also be found online at www.missionact.VA.gov.

There are a couple of things to note about the topics covered in the brochure. One being that if you are needing to use the urgent/walk-in care benefit for minor injuries and illnesses, such as pink eye or ear infections, you must have been enrolled in the VA health-care system and have received care from the VA within the 24 months prior to seeking this care, to be eligible for this benefit.”

Regarding your overall health-care eligibility, it is important to note that the VA provides a comprehensive medical benefits package to all Veterans who are enrolled, “through an annual patient enrollment system that categorizes veterans based on different property groups.” Thus, “eligible Veterans can use VA health care services nationwide, including through mobile health clinics that serve rural areas and via telehealth (care through a phone or computer) in your home or on the go.”

Also, regarding copayments and insurance, the letter states that “like other health care providers, VA may charge a copayment for healthcare. The copayment amount may be based on your enrollment priority group, the type of healthcare service you receive, and your financial situation. If a VA copayment applies, you are responsible for that amount whether your care is furnished directly by the VA or through a community provider. VA may bill your health insurance for medical care, supplies, and prescriptions. As a result of the MISSION Act, VA no longer requires your permission to bill your health insurance carrier for health care related to a sensitive diagnosis. If you would like to submit a request to restrict this process, please contact your local VA facility’s privacy officer.”

“No matter what safeguards you have, you really cannot replace virtue.” — John Adams, 1735 to 1826, 2nd president of the United States

Ronald Verini is a local veterans advocate who writes a weekly column for The Argus Observer. He can be contacted at (541) 889-1978, help@veteranadvocates.org or 180 W. Idaho Ave., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.

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