Veteran Health Benefits Revised

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The VA Maintaining Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act (VA Mission Act), which Congress passed and President Trump signed last year, rolled out some important changes in June. Among changes in the Veterans Administration enacted by the VA Mission Act, veteran health benefits are now useable at providers other than at the VA, with a few stipulations.

“The changes not only improve our ability to provide the health care veterans need, but also when and where they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a June statement. “It will also put veterans at the center of their care and offer options, including expanded telehealth and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that is right for them.”

Some critics believe that expanding veterans’ options represents a means of dismantling the VA Health System; however, others view the VA Mission Act as a way to empower veterans about their healthcare and lighten the burden on the VA providers.

Since healthcare providers — whether the VA or a private entity — are experiencing a provider shortage with no end in sight, opening up the options to other choices makes sense to physician Az Tahir, who practices holistic integrative medicine at High Point Chiropractic Wellness in Syracuse.

“The number of patients is a very, very big issue,” Tahir said. “Some patients have multiple issues. The VA alone cannot solve some of these issues. The ideal approach is complete medicine.”

Reducing the patient load will likely help the VA recruit and retain care providers, offer increased continuity of care and allow more time for doctor visits.

The VA already refers patients out to practitioners such as Amber Gilbo, licensed massage therapist and owner of Integrative Healing Spa in Oswego, who said she often receives patients sent to her by a VA doctor. But to obtain a referral, a patient must first obtain a visit, which can be difficult when providers at the VA are booked well in advance.

Excessive waiting lists across the VA Health System represents a top reason for the legislation, so veterans relying on their veteran health benefits could seek whatever provider they wish.

“I think it will be extremely beneficial,” Gilbo said. “The VA has made a lot of progress with that. They’ve had programs with acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic.

“I think they are making strides in creating a more comprehensive care for veterans.”