Community care eligibility changes coming to Salem VA Medical Center

Director: new plan does not mean VA hospitals are heading toward privatization

SALEM, Va. – There will soon be a better process for connecting veterans with the option of seeking health care outside the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Changes take effect June 6 that hospital officials say may result in more patients using the Community Care Plan, which includes streamlining the process that is used to connect patients with other health care providers in the community.

Currently, about 30% of patients at the Salem VA have used other providers -- for reasons like needing a procedure that’s not available there, or lengthy drive or wait times.

The Community Care Plan lowers the minimum times that allow patients to qualify and urgent care options will be expanded.

“The VA has partnered with the community for care since the 1940s so this is nothing new,” Salem VA Medical Center Director Rebecca Stackhouse told 10 News. “This just makes sure we’re able to coordinate care for the veteran in the right place in a timely manner.”

These changes are just one aspect of the MISSION Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in June of 2018.

“There were a lot of burdens that were placed on the patient and a lot of steps that they needed to go through in order to get care in the community. With the MISSION Act and the new community care network that really does make it much more efficient,” Stackhouse said.

Veterans can find out if they’re eligible, then choose to opt in. VA staff members work with the providers to schedule appointments.

Stackhouse said the new plan does not mean that VA hospitals are moving toward privatization.

“One thing I hear sometimes is, with the MISSION Act, folks can be concerned that this could be an effort to privatize the VA. It is absolutely not,” she said.

About 30% of Salem VA patients have used other providers.

Labor and delivery, open heart surgery and neurosurgery are examples of care the Salem VA doesn’t provide.

The MISSION Act stands for the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018.

The act includes funding for other programs: assistance for caregivers, for which phase one will begin in October; infrastructure, which could result in more expansion for the Salem VA Medical Center to modernize and otherwise improve facilities; and recruiting and incentivizing employees.

Sweeping changes to veterans ability to seek care outside of VA hospitals came in 2014 with the Veterans Choice Act.

Currently, the Salem VA has two ongoing construction projects, on the dialysis unit and the boiler plant. There are multiple others on the way, including in the Intensive Care Unit and emergency rooms.

The facility covers 26 counties, seeing more than 38,000 patients a year. The number of veterans seeking care has been growing the past few years.