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VA representatives share new programs

Posted on March 26, 2019

Approximately 50 El Dorado residents turned out Monday night to meet with representatives from the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and ask questions about benefits and services.

As part of the event, representatives helped residents who hadn't already signed up for their benefits to do so. However, the main part of the event was designed to help veterans learn about available services and answer questions.

Arlo Taylor, with Central Arkansas Veteran Health Services, said he was happy with the turnout for Monday's event.

As part of it Dr. Margie Scott, medical center director at the CAVHS and the El Dorado VA clinic, talked to veterans about a new program being rolled out nationwide in the beginning of June. The program, which will replace the current Choice Act, will help veterans in areas such as El Dorado have more access to health care, Scott said.

The Mission Act was signed by President Donald Trump in June 2018, is designed to make the community care program easier to navigate, expand eligibility for Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) and strengthen the VA’s ability to recruit medical providers. While Scott focused on the accessibility to health care professionals, the law also makes the PCAFC program available to veterans from any era; it’s currently only available to veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty during or after Sept. 11, 2001.

As part of the program, veterans will be able to have at least two urgent care visits a year without a co-pay. This would include things like going to the doctor for a cold or flu, Scott said.

Additionally, a veteran who is looking for primary care or mental health care would be able to go into the community for care if they don’t have access to the VA within 20 days or 28 days for specialty care appointments.

While the program keeps in place the 40-mile radius that the Choice Act put in place – which allows a veteran who lives more than 40 miles from the VA to go into the community – the Mission Act extends it to be within a 30-minute drive for primary or mental health care or an hour drive for specialty care.

“That’s a huge change that I’m proud to be able to say that we can have services that are closer to where you live,” Scott said. “That’s the goal. You served, you’re eligible, you sacrificed, we need to make this system as veteran-centered as possible. I don’t see that as somebody might be going somewhere else for care rather than my hospital. I don’t see that as a negative. I see that as providing services where it’s needed.”

Scott said those who are established with a provider at the Little Rock VA can continue going to that provider if they want to, but this system gives the option for care closer to where a veteran lives.

Scott said the system is still being cleaned up and worked out, but there will be a network of providers who have said they will provide services under the program to veterans; this will include any clinic or hospital who wishes to participate. Scott also said if a veteran has a doctor they prefer to go to, they can talk to the VA about it and the VA will reach out to that specific doctor.

Along with Scott, Linda Parker, assistant director for regional benefits, talked to veterans about a system that has just been added to the El Dorado clinic within the past few months.

The system, called telebenefits, is currently offered every Tuesday afternoon at the El Dorado VA clinic, but Parker said they’re working on adding a second day to it. Telebenefits allows a veteran to go to the El Dorado VA clinic and talk face-to-face through a FaceTime style system with a representative in the benefits department at the Little Rock office about benefits claims.

Parker said anybody can request a meeting through the system, whether they are a veteran or somebody who is helping care for a veteran. If a veteran comes more than once, they’ll be set up with the same representative each time, Parker said, so that they’re talking to somebody who is already familiar with their situation.

This system, Parker said, is being used in other states. However, Arkansas has the most extensive system in place with 13 clinics around the state currently set up and three more in the process of being added.

Parker said there’s also a system where if a form needs to be printed and filled out, it can be printed at the El Dorado clinic with the team there able to fax it to where it needs to go.

“It’s pretty much a seamless opportunity for you to come in without having to travel the two and a half hours to the Little Rock office,” Parker said. “If you’ve got a question about your claim or if your spouse’s claim, want to file a claim, whatever you might need that has to do with your benefits, you can get to the El Dorado clinic and you can sign up to do telebenefits. You will actually talk face-toface with a public contact representative with the regional office.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.