‘As the Crow Flies’ Doesn’t Work for Veterans

The Veterans Choice Program, created through legislation to improve veterans’ care, is great policy and a clear example of good government at work. It was designed to allow veterans who couldn’t be seen at a VA medical facility in a timely manner or within a reasonable distance from their homes to be able to receive care from doctors in their communities. To date, there have been more than 45,000 appointments scheduled for veterans at private care facilities and a huge amount of positive feedback on the program. Unfortunately, there has been a major hitch. A “reasonable distance” from a veteran’s home was defined by the VA as less than 40 miles in distance as the crow flies, not 40 miles in actual driving distance.

In northeast Wisconsin and in the peninsula especially, 40 miles as the crow flies could actually end up being a hundred miles and an odyssey over winding roads along the coast, as many cities are separated by water. Curving shore roads and detours around natural features have caused the Veterans Choice Program not to be available to many people who truly do live a long distance from a VA care facility and would benefit greatly from the program.

It was clear that the “as the crow flies” distance policy didn’t follow the spirit of the law, and I heard from constituents who were extremely relieved to learn about the Veterans Choice Program only to then find they weren’t eligible, despite the fact that they were traveling several hours to reach a VA medical facility. I and my colleagues put pressure on the VA to revise their rules and provide a community-based alternative to care for those who would have to travel more than 40 miles to a facility.

I am very happy to share that the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that they are changing their rules so that any veteran who lives more than forty miles in driving distance from a VA facility will now be eligible to benefit from this program. This change will nearly double the number of men and women who will qualify for the Veterans Choice Program, and I expect it will especially benefit residents in northeast Wisconsin, whose beautiful lakes can sometimes make transportation a challenge. I appreciate the VA being responsive to our requests for changes in this program, and commend them for the top-notch care that they are able to provide to most veterans in their facilities.

My father served proudly in the Marines, and I have a deep appreciation for the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. As our world becomes an increasingly tumultuous place, we must keep in mind not only the importance of our warriors, but also the importance of our commitments to them as they return home carrying the scars of war.

If you think you or a loved one might qualify for the Veterans Choice Program under the new rules, give the VA a call at 866.606.8198 to confirm eligibility or schedule an appointment. As always, my office stands ready to help you navigate the VA or any other issues you might have with a federal agency, and I encourage you to get in touch!

U.S. Representative Reid Ribble (WI-08) lives in Appleton, Wis., and represents the eighth district of Wisconsin. You can contact his office at 920.380.0061 or learn more about his work in the House at his website,