TEMPLE, Texas — Eligible U.S. veterans, starting Thursday, are being granted access to health care at facilities outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- paid for by the VA --  under the new Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act (MISSION Act). That includes access to urgent care. 

According to the Federal Register, the MISSION Act says the VA will pay for covered veterans to have access to non-VA primary care, mental health care, or non-institutional extended care if the average driving time for the veteran to a VA health care provider is 30 minutes, or if the veteran has to wait at least 20 days to see a VA health care provider.

The Central Texas VA Hospital released the following statement about the MISSION Act: 

“Central Texas Health Care System is proud to offer Veterans enhanced services through the MISSION Act, which puts Veterans at the center of their health care decisions,” said Andrew Garcia, Interim Director for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.  “As part of this landmark law, eligible Veterans who need urgent care for illnesses or injuries, such as strep throat, pink eye, minor burns, or influenza, may now take advantage of a new urgent care benefit at participating clinics close to home.”

Taneisha Jones, a retired U.S. Army soldier, is already taking advantage of the brand new program. 

"It's really beneficial because we have to wait, 30 sometimes 45 days for an appointment, so to be able to come here to the urgent care clinic and get seen in two hours is amazing," she said. 

Victor Anda is a physician's assistant and he recently retired from the Army. He said the new policy is an incredible opportunity. 

"To me, it's really taking care of the soldier," he said. "A simple walk in a shopping mall causes lower back pain, causes foot pain. And if you have the aches and pains, there's no reason to wait to see your primary care physician." 

In the case of specialty care, the VA will pay for visits to a non-VA facility if the veteran is unable to schedule an appointment within 60 minutes average driving time or within 28 days of the request.

In addition, the VA says eligible veterans will be able to go to an urgent care provider that is part of the VA's contracted network of community providers without prior authorization from the VA.

In order to be eligible for urgent care, veterans must meet these requirements:

  • Must be a registered VA patient
  • Been seen by VA within last 24-months

"With urgent care, Veterans have a new option for care for the treatment of minor injuries and illnesses, such as colds, sore throats and minor skin infections. The benefit is offered in addition to the opportunity to receive care from a VA provider, as VA also offers same-day services," according to a VA blog.

President Donald Trump signed the MISSION Act into law one year ago.

USA TODAY reports the new rules could increase the number of veterans eligible for private care paid for by the VA from 560,000 to 2.1 million.