I think it is worth repeating some of the information I wrote about this past July in regard to Veteran benefits deriving from the 2018 Mission Act. As I mentioned this new policy eliminated what we have known as the Choice Program. Many of you still have those Choice cards in your wallet, this program is obsolete so you can cut your Choice Card up and throw it in the trash. In place of the Choice Program, the Mission Act established a new Veterans Community Care Program. This is a new and improved community care program signed by President Trump with an implementation date that started June 6, 2019. The Mission Act is intended to strengthen the nationwide VA Health Care System by empowering Veterans to have more options in their health care decisions. Veterans will still receive health care through the VA, but with this new Mission Act VA physicians have more latitude in referring patients to local community care facilities, particularly if they are not able to drive the long distance to/from the Memphis VA.

As part of this new program VA offers an urgent care benefit that provides eligible Veterans with greater choice and access to timely, high-quality care. Urgent care providers treat injuries and illnesses that require immediate attention, but are not life-threatening. When using the urgent care benefit, Veterans must go to an urgent care provider in VA’s network. Upon arriving, Veterans must state they are using their VA urgent care benefit. The urgent care provider will verify the Veteran’s eligibility before providing care.

The new Mission Act offers this urgent care benefit for minor injuries and illnesses. To be covered by this benefit, you must be enrolled in the VA health care system and have received care from the VA within 24 months prior to seeking this care to be eligible for this benefit. Eligible Veterans can seek this care from an urgent care facility or walk-in retail health clinic that is part of VA’s community provider network, but not all urgent care facilities or walk-in retail health clinics are in VA’s network.

The three current authorized clinics in our immediate area that are in the network are: (1) MEDPLUS Urgent Clinic, 874 Barnes Crossing Road, Tupelo, Phone Number 841-0002; (2) Mantachie Rural Health Care, 5681 Hwy 363 Mantachie, Phone Number 282-4226; and (3) Golden Triangle Urgent Care, 1154 Cross Creek Drive, Saltillo, Phone Number 840-8010. MEDPLUS and Golden Triangle are both open on the weekends. This benefit is considered open access, allowing Veterans to access urgent care within VA’s community care network and receive care without prior authorization or referral from the VA. To ensure you are eligible for urgent care services you can call 1-833-483-8669. Veterans that use this service will not pay anything at the urgent care facility, but will be billed by VA for any copayment that is applicable.

Another excellent NEW benefit provided by the Department of Defense (DoD) is expanded Commissary, Post/Base-Exchange (PX/BX) and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) retail eligibility to: Purple Heart recipients, Former prisoners of war and all Veterans with service-connected disabilities. The DoD, VA and the Department of Homeland Security are collaborating to implement the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 for those who will be eligible for this benefit on Jan. 1, 2020. The following type facilities will be open to the newly eligible patrons starting Jan. 1, 2020: Commissaries, Military service exchanges, Golf courses, Bowling centers, Recreational lodging, RV campgrounds, Movie theaters, And more! During the first phase of rollout of these privileges, Veterans eligible solely under this act (Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, or Veterans with VA-documented service-connected disability ratings of 0-90 percent) who have been issued a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) from VA can present their VHIC to gain entry to DoD and Coast Guard installations to utilize commissaries, exchanges and MWR retail activities. The VHIC must display the Veteran’s eligibility status (i.e., PURPLE HEART, FORMER POW or SERVICE CONNECTED). Veterans eligible solely under this act who are not enrolled in or are not eligible to enroll in VA health care, or who are enrolled in VA health care, but do not possess a VHIC will not have access to DoD and Coast Guard installations for commissary, exchange, and MWR retail privileges.

It has been an honor serving our Veterans and families this past year and I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Please stop by my office or call should you have any questions about the content of this article or in assisting you explore your VA benefits. Pontotoc County Veterans Service Officer, Mack Huey, located in the Court House or call 489-3907.

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