If the nearest VA clinic is over 40 miles away, then a veteran is allowed to seek outside care as well.
The Access and Quality Tool is an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand way of accessing data, giving veterans more information about services and holding VA medical centers accountable, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs press release.
The current Veterans Choice Program (VCP) restricts veterans from seeking outside care unless they have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.
Although the program is now limited to the Phoenix area, the collaboration is a test-run of sorts as VA Secretary David Shulkin mulls an overhaul proposal aimed at reducing veterans' wait times.
"Our number one priority is getting veterans' access to care when and where they need it", said Baligh Yehia, the VA's deputy undersecretary for health for community care.
The VA says veterans can use the site to compare that data with other facilities in their area.
Under this program, nurses at the Phoenix VA facility's help line will be allowed to refer veterans to CVS' MinuteClinics when it is deemed "medically appropriate".
Shulkin has made clear he'd like a broader collaboration of "integrated care" nationwide between the VA and private sector in which veterans have wider access to private doctors. "Congress has once again demonstrated that the country stands firmly united when it comes to supporting our nation's Veterans", Shulkin said at the time.
The Phoenix VA was the site of the 2014 scandal over chronically long wait times for care. A report in 2015 discovered that over 300,000 veterans may have died before their requests for care had been processed. President and Chief Executive Officer of TriWest, David J. McIntyre, Jr. states, "TriWest values greatly the partnership with community providers who share our commitment to providing Veterans timely, high quality, and convenient health care". Three years later, the hospital still has problems seeing patients in a timely fashion.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans' expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an "important step forward". Baklava is his achilles heel.