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Hospital joins Veterans Choice Program

Thursday, May 7, 2015

by Ed Moreth, Sanders County Ledger

Hospital joins Veterans Choice to improve healthcare access

Clark Fork Valley Hospital is now part of the Veterans Choice Program (VCP), which enables military veterans to go to the Plains healthcare facility when the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center has a lack of available specialists, a long waiting period, or an extraordinarily long distance from the veteran's home. The closest VA clinics are in Missoula and Kalispell. The closest hospital is at Fort Harrison in Helena.

"I am thrilled that our veterans now have additional opportunities to receive the healthcare they so deserve. We are grateful that we can care for more of those individuals who served our country," said Dr. Gregory Hanson, CEO and president of CFVH.

CFVH has been seeing veterans since early this year, said Tonya Revier, Marketing and Community Relations Coordinator for the hospital. The VCP began last year in an effort to give veterans more options and timely access to healthcare. According to the VA, it provides primary care, inpatient and outpatient specialty care, and mental healthcare.

It is a volunteer program for civilian hospitals. Carla Neiman, the hospital's CFO, said several local veterans contacted the hospital with inquiries about the program. She said there was a delay in the time CFVH officials learned the hospital was showing up as a registered provider on the VA Choice website after filing the paperwork, but once they saw they were an eligible participant in the program they immediately began seeing veterans.

Veterans can become eligible for the program if they live farther than 40 miles from a VA facility or have a 30-day or longer wait for an appointment, according to the VA website. The veterans must contact the VA clinic first, which sets up the appointment for them at CFVH. Veterans can get a "Choice Card" from the VA by calling 1-866-606-8198. However, even veterans with a Choice Card must still work through the VA for appointments. Neiman said the hospital has been diligent to ensure that the hospital staff does not make appointments without authorization from the VA so that veterans don't get stuck with an unexpected hospital bill for services that were not authorized.

"The patient does not need to show their Choice Card at check in because the VA makes the appointment for them in advance if they are eligible," said Revier. "It is also important for those with VA benefits to note that this program applies only to elective ambulatory services, such as clinic visits and diagnostic exams authorized by their VA provider," said Neiman. The hospital bills the VA directly.

"We are very pleased to be able to extend this enhancement of service to our local veterans. It is something we've been wanting to do for a long time and this program really gave us the opportunity to do it," said Neiman. "Hopefully, the benefit is increased access to primary care, closer to home, with the authorization and continued involvement of their VA provider," she said. "Our mission is to partner with our communities to improve the health of those we serve, and this seems to fit nicely with that mission," added Neiman.

"We benefit from being able to establish care with more patients in the county, but ultimately the program is a community benefit for our residents who no longer have to travel or wait an extraordinary amount of time to get the care they need," said Revier.

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