Sunset of Veterans Choice Program Doesn’t Mean Treatment Isn’t Covered
The Veterans Choice program has provided many veterans coverage for healthcare, including coverage for substance abuse, mental illnesses, and more. The sunsetting of the Veterans Choice Program doesn’t mean the loss of coverage. The MISSION Act and Community Care program provide veterans even more healthcare options and services.
What is the Veterans Choice Program?
The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) was a program allowing veterans to get care from a community provider if they were unable to receive services through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).1 To use the VCP, veterans had to meet certain conditions, including being enrolled in VA healthcare and one of the following:2
- The VA wasn’t able to schedule an appointment within 30 days.
- If the driving distance between your house and the nearest VA with a full-time primary care doctor is more than 40 miles.
- The nearest VA wasn’t accessible unless you traveled by boat, ferry, or air.
- Traveling to the nearest VA created an excessive burden due to geographical, environmental, or medical issues.
- There was no full-service VA facility in the state that provided emergency, hospital, and surgical services, and there were no facilities like this within 20 miles of your residence.
This program is no longer accessible as of June 2019, although it has been replaced by a similar program called MISSION Act and Veteran Community Care.1, 3, 4
What is the MISSION Act & Community Care Program?
This MISSION Act and Veteran Community Care program was created to replace the VCP and increase veterans’ access to healthcare services from community providers.3, 4
The eligibility requirements have changed, expanding the availability of this program by changing distance calculations from miles to driving time, shortening the length of time veterans must wait for an appointment, and incorporating the best care options for each individual veteran.2, 3, 4, 5
Combat Veterans with Addiction and Mental Health Issues
Veterans are at higher risk for developing substance abuse issues than civilians.6, 7, 8 Statistics show that:6, 7, 8, 9
- Alcohol is the most common abused substance among veterans.
- 7% of rehab admissions among veterans were for heroin, and 6% for cocaine.
- Around 30% of Vietnam veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Around 12% of Gulf War veterans experience PTSD.
- 11-20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experience PTSD.
- 37-50% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have some kind of mental health diagnosis.
- 10-15% of veterans who served since 9/11 experience depression.
The stresses of deployment, exposure to combat, learning to reintegrate into civilian life, and even experiencing mental health symptoms can contribute to developing substance use disorders (SUDs).6 SUDs and co-occurring mental health disorders are common among veterans.6, 7 For example:6, 7
- Nearly all veterans with a SUD also have a mental health diagnosis.
- Of those that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 82%-93% experience co-occurring disorders.
- PTSD, depression, and anxiety are the most common mental health diagnoses accompanying SUDs in veterans, especially among female veterans.
- Among veterans that were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 63% were diagnosed with an SUD and PTSD.
How Much Will Treatment Cost?
The MISSION Act may cover several forms of mental health and substance addiction therapy for veterans including:
- Initial screening.
- Individual and group therapy.
- Family/couples counseling.
- Drug therapy.
- Relapse prevention.
Once VA approval is received, the MISSION Act pays for care.3 You may be responsible for copayments, which are billed through the VA.3
Asking for Help and Payment Options
If you are interested in learning more about using the MISSION Act for addiction treatment, contact the VA for information about your options and the types of care available. Community care must be authorized through the VA before you can seek treatment and you must meet certain criteria.3, 5 Once authorized, you can find an approved community provider or ask a VA staff member to assist you.
Addiction Treatment and Rehab
While VA alcohol rehab and VA drug rehab facilities are widespread, not all veterans can access VA care due to various factors.3, 5, 8 The MISSION Act lets you receive treatment from a wider network of approved community providers.3
AAC’s Salute to Recovery
The Salute to Recovery program, offered by American Addiction Centers (AAC), is specifically designed to treat veterans with SUDs and mental health disorders.11, 12 Treatment incorporates therapy, medication, trauma care, anger management, life skills, pain management, and peer support to help veterans treat and heal from addiction and other co-occurring mental health issues. Many of the staff are also veterans, providing a safe environment for all veterans to discuss their experiences and challenges.
If you are a veteran who has used the VCP or is eligible for community care through the MISSION Act, seeking treatment isn’t limited to what is provided at your local VA. Addiction and co-occurring disorders can feel impossible to overcome, but specialized rehab programs for veterans can help.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2019). Veterans Choice Program.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). 10 things about the Veterans Choice Program.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Community care.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). VA Mission Act.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Veteran community care eligibility.
- Teeters, J.B., Lancaster, C.L., Brown, D.G., & Back, S.E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: Prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance use and military life.
- RAND Corporation. (2019). Improving the quality of mental health care for veterans: Lessons from RAND research.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). How common is PTSD in veterans?.