Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick talks with veterans at Marana Town Hall during a community meeting Thursday, Aug 14, 2014. She wore a dog tag from Helping Our Heroes of Pinal County, a veterans support group. 

Becky Pallack / Arizona Daily Star

The $15 billion reform bill to address the crisis of long waiting times for VA appointments became law this month.

Here are three things to know about the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which includes $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses to solve staffing shortage problems:

1 Some veterans can see a doctor outside the VA system by using a new kind of insurance card.

If a veteran tries to schedule an appointment at a VA hospital or clinic but is told the waiting time would be more than 30 days, he or she can either wait or use the new Choice Card to get an appointment from a different provider outside the VA system.

Many veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic also may use the Choice Cards.

Choice Cards should be arriving in veterans’ mailboxes by November. The cards tell providers whom to call to verify enrollment and get billing information.

Choice Cards can be used to get health care from:

2 Veterans have more access to mental-health services.

In addition to more mental-health care providers and more clinic sites, the law allows military members who were victims of sexual assault to receive counseling and health care at VA facilities.

This is an important step, but there’s still a lot more that needs to change, said U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who stopped in Marana last week to explain the changes. She was a member of the bipartisan House-Senate conference committee that designed the reform bill.

“This isn’t a complete overhaul of the whole VA system. It does not fix every single problem,” including problems with homelessness, suicide and post-traumatic stress, Kirkpatrick said. “It really is centered toward access to care.”

3 Some surviving spouses can receive a type of GI-Bill benefit.

The law gives in-state tuition benefits to surviving spouses of military members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 11, 2001.

“We were hearing from so many spouses who lost their husband or wife in the military service and now are the breadwinner of the family but don’t have the resources they need,” Kirkpatrick said. Providing a lower college tuition price will help them go back to school to get training and a better job, she said.

The law also makes in-state tuition available to veterans under the post-9/11 GI Bill; however, that’s a benefit already given to veterans who enroll at Arizona’s public universities, under state Board of Regents policy, said board President Eileen Klein.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4251.