Disabled Veterans Get Health Care Priority from VA
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America's Veterans


WASHINGTON (Jan. 2, 2004) - All veterans with service-connected medical problems will receive priority access to health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under a new directive.

"Caring for veterans with service-connected medical problems is a major reason VA exists," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "This directive should ease the minds of veterans who no longer have to wait for health care appointments."

The new directive provides that all veterans requiring care for a service-connected disability -- regardless of the extent of their injury -- must be scheduled for a primary care evaluation within 30 days of their request for care. If a VA facility is unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days, it must arrange for care at another VA facility, at a contract facility or through a sharing agreement.

The directive covers hospitalization and outpatient care. It does not apply to care for medical problems not related to a service-connected disability. However, veterans needing emergency care will be treated immediately.

The new provision is an extension of rules that took effect in October 2002 for severely disabled veterans. Under the earlier rule, priority access to health care went to veterans with disabilities rated at 50 percent or more. For the severely disabled, the priority includes care for non-service-connected medical problems.

The number of veterans using VA's health care system has risen dramatically in recent years, increasing from 2.9 million in 1995 to nearly 5 million in 2003. Although VA operates more than 1,300 sites of care, including 162 hospitals and more than 800 outpatient clinics, the increase in veterans seeking care outstrips VA's capacity to treat them.

"VA provides the finest health care in the country, but if a veteran cannot see a doctor in a timely manner, then we have failed that veteran," Principi said.

"I will work to honor our commitment to veterans," he said. "But when it comes to non-emergency health care, we must give the priority to veterans with service-connected disabilities."