Mission Act expands healthcare options for veterans

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a milestone expansion for veterans access to healthcare went into effect. Starting Thursday, June 6th, roughly nine million veterans currently enrolled in VA facilities across the country can now seek medical care from private doctors under VA coverage.

The move was made possible by The Mission Act-- a law signed by President Trump last year.

Previously, veterans who waited 30 days or more for an appointment at their closest VA health care facility could seek private care. But now, that number is reduced with the hopes to shorten those long wait times significantly.

“You look to your left. You look to your right-- that's your family. And whether you agree or disagree with them, you need to watch their six and take care of them,” veteran Tim Stroud said.

Stroud, a former combat medic said that was one of his first lessons learned while serving in the army. Hailing from a third generation military family, about a decade ago, Stroud was deployed to Iraq.

“It was a 127 degrees. I lost 24 lbs my first month in our Iraq and it was one of those things that it was a complete transformation physically and mentally,” Stroud said.

Stroud said the recovery and treatment for all veterans is an on-going process, and accessibility to VA healthcare coverage is key.

“That’s one of the things I'm happy about with the Mission Act. I think it strengthens the VA and the circle of care that the veterans can tap into,” Stroud said.

The Mission Act aims to curb long wait times. The VA will now pay for veterans to see non-VA doctors if they have to wait longer than 20 days, or drive more than 30 minutes for primary or mental healthcare.

The expanded option is a gold mine for Stroud who says Houston traffic can sometimes trigger him.

“If there's an accident, I don't have time to respond properly if the traffic is backed up that much and the trigger goes back to being in Iraq,” Stroud said.

Willie Payton serves as the Deputy Care Director for the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston.

Payton said there are approximately 113,000 veterans in the greater Houston area that are currently receiving care from the VA that will benefit from the Mission Act.

“We’ve always provided coverage for our emergency care services, depending on service care connection that was a little difficult. But now that we've got this program to assist us and support equalities, we've got efficient ways to provide ways to veterans,” Payton said.

Veterans will also have access to certain walk-in clinics and urgent care with this new law.

The VA also says the expanded private healthcare options will be particularly helpful for those living in rural areas, or highly congested urban areas.

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