Veterans can now get care at other health centers

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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Veterans can now use their veteran benefits to get care at facilities other than the local Veteran Administration Medical Center.

Under the new Veteran's Choice Program, veterans who fit specific criteria can access care at Via Christi and Ascension Health facilities nationwide.

Christopher West works as a Veterans Choice Navigator with regard to the program and said as a veteran himself, serving others who have served the country is an honor and something that's important. He said it's not the majority, but a substantial number of veterans who transition to civilian life need some sort of service from the VA Hospital. West is one of them.

"Personally, I access my veterans benefits for shoulder injuries, I have some foot problems which I think most Army, Marine and even the Air Force people do from the long rut marches to the constant running. So really just kind of rehabilitating and rebuilding my body back up after serving our country," he said. "I'm a ten year Army veteran. I became an active duty army soldier in 2005. I served in various locations across the United States. I deployed to Iraq two times for twelve month tours."

West said waiting for appointments isn't a big deal to him because he's local and knows he'll get what he needs. But he said there are other veterans who need services faster and don't want to travel to another VA out of town or wait for weeks.

"Let's say a veteran comes in with foot pain and maybe the podiatrist wants to order an x-ray or MRI or specialty procedure that may have a 45 day wait list. Thorough the choice program, a veteran can access those services a lot sooner and get back into that VA podiatrist for that care," he said.

Some veterans want to keep their health services within the VA Hospital, according to West and he said the Veterans Choice Program is by no means a replacement for the VA Hospitals. Rather, he said it's a supplement for veterans.

Certain services like rehabilitation, physical therapy and occupational therapy, he said, are most common for Via Christi to assist with in Wichita. West said some of those services are good to have locally so veterans can have their families and support systems close.

"In Wichita we have about a 9.5 to 10 percent population of veterans," West said.

The program comes after a year of negotiations between Ascension Health and the VA. It stems from the Veterans Choice Accessibility and Accountability Act of 2014. West explains who qualifies for the program.

"Any veteran that has to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or within 30 days of a preferred day for an appointment, any veteran that may live more than 40 miles from a veteran's administration medical center that has a primary care physician or any veteran that needs a specialty that's not provided by their local VA," he explains.

To see if you qualify, you can go to the link to the right of the screen titled "See if you qualify" or call 1-866-606-8198. The number will take you to the VA pre-authorization line.

Via Christi began giving services to veterans under their veteran benefits March 1 and has since served more than 200 veterans.