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Long wait times at the VA? Read this.

By Concerned Veterans for America

We’ve all been there. Veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs for their health care are all too familiar with the extensive wait times for medical appointments. Average wait times can be from a few days to a few months for needed care.  

And even if we’re able to schedule an appointment relatively soon, the VA regularly cancels appointments without our knowledge and schedules us much further out. Then the waits continue. 

On March 5, VA access is expanding through the PACT Act to veterans who’ve experienced toxic exposure. These veterans will be eligible for VA care without enrolling first. While veterans should have access to the timely and quality care they’ve earned, the VA’s rush to quickly expand eligibility without proper planning beforehand means a wave of new veterans will enter an already over-burdened system ill-equipped to meet their needs. 

Our wait times for care could get even longer. 

Here are four things to know if you’re experiencing long wait times at the VA. 


The VA MISSION Act gave you access to community care 

The VA MISSION Act, which has been law for almost six years, expanded veterans’ access to community care. This means veterans can use their VA health benefits to access care from a network of community providers if the VA can’t meet wait and drive time criteria. More on that below. 

With the PACT Act opening up VA care benefits to more veterans around the country, it’s more vital than ever that we have these options. Our health and wellbeing hinge on timely, quality care. 


There are specific criteria for when you can seek community care 

The VA MISSION Act required the VA to update its criteria for when a veteran can use VA benefits to access care in the community. 

Veterans are able to see a community provider if: 

  • The wait time for primary or mental health care at a VA facility is more than 20 days, or the drive time is longer than 30 minutes. 
  • The wait time for specialty care at a VA facility is more than 28 days, or the drive time is longer than 60 minutes. 
  • The VA doesn’t provide the service you need. 
  • You don’t have a full-service VA in your state. 
  • It’s in your best medical interest to go outside the VA. 

If any of these criteria apply to you, community care is an option for you. If it’s not offered to you, you can ask for it directly. 


The VA may try to manipulate and discourage you from using community care 

Despite the law, the VA doesn’t prioritize community care as an option for veterans. They’d often prefer you stay in the VA’s system to justify their bloated budget.  

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show the VA uses manipulative scheduling practices to skirt community care eligibility. They have a few ways of doing this, including using an incorrect date to start the wait time clock or canceling and rescheduling appointments. Each method typically makes the wait times appear shorter and within the VA’s standards, making community care not an option. 

The VA’s internal guidance documents also reveal the agency is incorrectly putting the burden of asking for community care on you, the veteran, rather than on schedulers. All this despite the VA MISSION Act explicitly placing the responsibility to provide options on the VA itself. 

These internal training documents call for extra layers of administrative review before you can be deemed eligible for community care, reviews that the VA MISSION Act doesn’t require. The language VA uses in training documents is meant to intentionally dissuade you from exploring or accessing your community care options. 


There is legislation being considered that would open up greater access to community care access 

It’s not all doom and gloom; there’s hope for ensuring you have access to the care you need.  

The Veterans Health Care Freedom Act would expand access to community care, eventually empowering all veterans with the option to use their VA benefits where they determine is best for their unique situations, regardless of wait times or drive times, and without needing to get permission from VA administrators first.  

This legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate and needs veterans like you to voice your support for more choice. 

It only takes a few moments to tell your lawmaker to pass the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act! 


With more veterans entering the VA health care system, you need to know your options to ensure you have the care you need when you need it. Ask for community care when it’s right for you and support legislation that gives veterans around the country more choice.