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Courtesy of Pixabay and Angelique Johnson

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has introduced options aimed at giving veterans greater access to care out in the community at non-VA facilities.

The community care perks, which include a new urgent care benefit, are thanks to the VA Mission Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump last year. The name stands for Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018.

“The Mission Act has enhanced access to care for all veterans,” said Stephen Black, medical center director at the VA hospital in Louisville.

Veterans and other interested persons can learn about the act by attending a VA/Community Summit Aug. 30 in Louisville. The free event, which also will cover other topics, such as medication-assisted treatment and understanding military culture, will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the University of Louisville’s conference center at 450 N. Whittington Parkway.

The act’s urgent care benefit went into effect in June and gives veterans access to a network of providers that treat injuries and illnesses that need immediate attention but aren’t considered life-threatening at the time, such as flu, minor burns and skin infections, according to the VA.

But Black urges veterans to verify that they’re choosing the right urgent care center.

“Don’t just go to an urgent care clinic expecting VA to pay for that,” he said. “It has to be one (in the network). That’s really important for them to know.”

The community care component of the Mission Act also allows eligible veterans to receive other types of care, such as primary care, from non-VA providers, if certain criteria are met.

For example, veterans generally can see non-VA doctors for primary care or mental health care if they wouldn’t be able to get an appointment with a VA provider within both average driving time standards and wait time standards.

The average driving time standard is 30 minutes for primary or mental health care and 60 minutes for specialty care. The average wait time standard is 20 days for primary or mental health care and 28 days for specialty care.

So, if you’re a veteran who lives 10 miles from the nearest VA primary care provider, but it takes you more than an hour to drive there on average due to heavy traffic, you would be eligible for community care, according to the VA.

But Black said the Louisville VA hospital, also known as the Robley Rex VA Medical Center, already is providing care within those time frames for the most part and has increased its offerings to better serve patients.

For example, “we now have the full complement of optometry services available to our patients at our Zorn location,” he said in a follow-up email. “We will also begin working toward taking those services to our other locations. We have always provided the highest level of quality care.”

There’s a Women Veterans Open House at the VA Hospital, 800 Zorn Ave., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 28.

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Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.