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Program gives veterans option for non-VA medical care

When Air Force veteran Merle Voight was diagnosed with breast cancer early last year, the 49-year-old was in shock. The former nurse recalled working on the oncology floor, seeing chemotherapy patients vomit as they also lost weight and most of their hair.

While that image frightened her, she said her experience with a Non-Department of Veterans Affairs medical care program helped turn a scary event into one of hope.

“A lot of people don’t know that they have a choice of doctors and treatment facilities,” Voight said. “After visiting the VA, I learned that although they didn’t offer radiation, I still had other options.”

In Southern Nevada, the VA hospital does not offer radiation therapy, which made Voight eligible for Non-VA Care, which uses facilities outside the VA system.

Along with those who require treatments not covered by the VA, veterans who meet certain criteria also are eligible to have outside care covered by the VA through a new Choice Program. Among the reasons a veteran might be able to get care normally provided by the VA at an outside facility is living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA hospital or having to travel by plane or boat to get to a VA facility.

The Choice Program began Nov. 5. In order for a non-VA provider to be eligible, it must be able to provide timely and adequate care, be within a reasonable distance of the veteran’s home and meet the same licensing and other requirements as VA providers.

“Many people have a history with another facility and would rather see doctors in their community,” Voight said. “Now they have that choice.”

Under the program, the VA also will reimburse veterans for out-of-pocket costs such as co-payments, prescriptions and travel expenses.

For Voight’s radiation treatment, she opted for 21st Century Oncology, which had a location close to her Centennial Hills home.

She underwent radiation fron May through July in 2014. Although she is now cancer-free, she continues to raise awareness about non-VA medical care.

“We have five to six veterans under treatment here,” said Dr. Paul Treadwell, board-certified radiation oncologist with 21st Century Oncology of Las Vegas. “We try to (see) them in a timely way and help veterans navigate paperwork and facilitate Non-VA Care authorizations.”

Treadwell said new patients can be seen for an initial consultation and to discuss treatment options within two to three days of VA authorization. They usually can begin treatment within seven to 10 days.

“Having cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence as long as it’s caught early,” Voight said.

For more information on the new Choice Program, call 866-606-8198 or visit va.gov/opa/choiceact.

For more information on 21st Century Oncology, call 855-728-4282 or visit 21stcenturyoncology.com/about-us/veterans.

Contact North View reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@viewnews.com or 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

 

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