Indiana’s Senators Urge VA to Consider Travel Time in Allowing Non-VA Providers

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Indiana’s two senators and a Northwest Indiana Congressman are urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider more than just total distance in allowing access to non-VA health care services.

Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats, along with Representative Pete Visclosky, sent the letter to the VA on October 31.

“We urge you to use your authority to consider travel time as well as total distance to a VA facility,” Coats, Donnelly and Visclosky wrote.

A 2014 law passed in the wake of the Veterans Affairs’ backlog scandal allows veterans access to non-VA providers if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or face “an unusual or excessive burden” in accessing VA care.

The VA is in the process of writing detailed eligibility guidance based on the law. The administrative guidance should outline the “unusual or excessive burden” standard that VA will use.

The letter also notes the difficulties of travel for patients to Chicago, which is the closest VA hospital with inpatient services and specialty outpatient treatment:

In Northwest Indiana, veterans utilize the Adam Benjamin, Jr., Outpatient Clinic in Crown Point, Indiana, for outpatient services. Should the veteran require certain specialty outpatient or inpatient services, they are required to take shuttle transportation of approximately 40 miles from the Adam Benjamin, Jr., Outpatient Clinic to the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. This travel poses numerous logistical and physical challenges for elderly veterans, and has been a consistent concern expressed by Northwest Indiana veterans for many years.

While some of our constituents may live within 40 miles of the VA facilities in Crown Point and Chicago, if they are required to travel to Crown Point in order to take the shuttle transportation into Chicago, their total travel distance will almost certainly exceed 40 miles. This is an incredibly frustrating experience for older infirmed veterans, as local non-VA hospital care and medical services are readily available.

Furthermore, the total travel time expended by these veterans to travel to Chicago can be extreme, especially if they have to first travel to Crown Point for the shuttle. According to travel planning software, the driving time from the Adam Benjamin Jr. Outpatient Clinic to the Jesse Brown Medical Center is expected to take a little over an hour. However, due to traffic congestion in Indiana and Chicago, a trip of that duration is rarely the case.

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