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A recent event in El Dorado brought encouraging news for area military veterans.

Dr. Margie Scott, medical center director at the Central Arkansas Veteran Health Services and the El Dorado Veterans Administration clinic, spoke during a veterans’ program in El Dorado about a new program being rolled out nationwide in the beginning of June, according to an article in the El Dorado News-Times. The program will help veterans in areas such as ours have more access to health care, the article quoted Scott as saying.

The Mission Act, 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, Scott said. While Scott focused on the accessibility to health care professionals, she also explained the law makes the PCAFC program available to veterans from any era, not as it is currently only to veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty during or after Sept. 11, 2001.

According to the article, the program includes these benefits:

  • 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, veterans would be able to go into the community for primary care or mental health 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 a 40-mile radius – 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.

The system is still being tweaked, according to Scott, who said there will be a network of providers who have said they will serve veterans. Scott also said if a veteran has a doctor preference, the VA will reach out to that specific doctor.

It was also announced during the veterans’ event that a system called telebenefits is being offered every Tuesday afternoon at the El Dorado VA clinic. Telebenefits allows veterans at the clinic to discuss benefits claims face-to-face through a FaceTime-style system with a benefits department representative at the VA’s Little Rock office.

These are all welcome improvements to the VA system that has in the past fallen short so many times in serving veterans in a dignified, responsive and timely manner. We hope efforts vigorously continue to make accessing veterans services and benefits less frustrating and stressful.

Helping alleviate the headaches for veterans dealing with the federal bureaucracy of the VA are dedicated local veterans service officers. We encourage veterans in our communities to learn about services and benefits available to them, and how to access them, by calling the Columbia County Veterans Service Office at 870-235-3746, The office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

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