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Some veterans now eligible for health care outside VA system

Some Tennessee residents are among the thousands of veterans who have suffered major injuries during deployments in both combat and noncombat zones. Some veterans have been disabled for life by their injuries. In many cases, service members were traumatized so badly by their experiences that posttraumatic stress makes it highly unlikely they can ever work again even if they can find work that they are suited for.

All veterans with injuries, of course, are eligible for health care through the Veterans Administration. In reality, thousands of veterans across the country have been denied timely service, and scores have allegedly died while waiting for appointments to be seen by VA physicians. Whether it is excessive paperwork, legal formalities or simply bad luck, too many veterans have been deprived from getting health care when they need it.

Fortunately, last November a new program -- the Choice Program -- began providing medical care for veterans' injuries for veterans who could not be seen in the VA system within 30 days or if they lived more than 40 miles from their closest VA health-care providers. Now veterans with urgent needs can ask to be treated in local hospitals or nursing homes.

The new option is an attempt to address the backlog of veterans who could not even get timely appointments, let alone immediate medical care through the VA. The VA generally will not pay for medical treatment outside the system, leaving many veterans caught between waiting indefinitely for treatment and shelling out their own money. The new option was also introduced to address situations in which veterans' injuries are so severe that traveling to a VA health-care provider or facility might present severe problems.

Many veterans have found it helpful to consult legal help to expedite their claims in order to use their existing health-care benefits.

Source: VA.gov, "Veterans' choice program," Accessed on April 2, 2015

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