Improving Veterans’ Access to Medical Services
By Barbara Truitt,
Are you, or do you know, a local veteran who has trouble getting transportation to the VA facility 70 miles away in Eureka, or who can’t get a timely VA appointment for needed medical care? If so, the Veterans Choice Program may be just what you need.
The Veterans Choice Program provides VA-funded healthcare to military service veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA clinic or to those whose treatment needs cannot be met within a medically-appropriate time frame. It is designed to supplement, not replace, regular VA medical care, so eligible veterans can access both their regular VA providers and their Choice Program practitioners as appropriate. Originally created as a temporary solution to veterans’ medical service access challenges, the Program was made permanent in April of this year. Along with removing the Choice Program’s expiration date, Public Law 115-26 made the VA the primary coordinator of benefits for its services, and it removed barriers to sharing necessary health information with community providers.
The Choice Program is available to all veterans who participate in the VA healthcare system. Once veterans have pre-registered with the Choice Program, they may obtain services from any medical practitioner who has agreed to the terms and conditions required to become a certified Choice provider.
The Southern Humboldt Community Clinic’s Physician’s Assistant Linda Candiotti and our Family Nurse Practitioners Barbara Hayes and Sarah Beach are all fully certified Choice Program practitioners. Our recently hired Clinic Medical Director Dr. Mylene Rucker, who practiced in our Clinic years ago as a locum tenens (temporary) physician, is obtaining her Choice Program certification as well. They all look forward to serving our veterans’ outpatient needs, including diagnosis, prescription medications, and lab and x-ray tests.
To take advantage of this program, veterans should contact the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) Call Center at 866-606-8198, or they can visit the VCP website at https://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/ and click on “For Veterans.” Once eligibility is confirmed, VCP staff will assist veterans in making their appointments with local qualified Choice Program providers.
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Kudos to Veterans for Holiday Meals
Speaking of choices, I am grateful that our local veterans, through the Garberville Veterans Association (GVA), have chosen to provide wonderful holiday feasts in Southern Humboldt for more than three decades. These have traditionally been held at the John Haynes Memorial Veterans Hall, but the Hall was closed earlier this year due to condition issues resulting from long-deferred maintenance, and its fate is now unknown.
This year, rather than abandoning their tradition, the veterans are partnering with the Mateel Community Center(MCC) to host the holiday meals. Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner was a joyous occasion as volunteers from both organizations, as well as others who came in unsolicited, worked together to create a beautiful and nutritious buffet for hundreds of people from every segment of our population, old and young, families and loners, housed and houseless, and passers-through.
The Christmas dinner will also be held at the Mateel this year. As usual, this celebration will include holiday music along with the traditional feast, as well as Santa giving gifts to children of all ages. The public event will be held from noon to 5:00 pm on Christmas Day, but preparations begin soon, starting with collecting the needed funds and obtaining and wrapping gifts. For more information or to volunteer, contact local veteran Dr. Brian Ormond at 707-923-9343.
Monetary donations for the holiday dinners may be made to the Garberville Veterans Association (GVA), Post Office Box 133, Garberville, CA 95542.
Barbara Truitt, Foundation Director, Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District