Yellow Medicine County Veterans Service Officer Michelle Gatz reflected on her visit to the VA National Convention earlier this year. She listened to VA officials and other leaders from across the country share updates about new programs and policies that will impact local veterans and their families.

“The biggest news is the ‘Mission Act,’ Gatz explained. She says that this legislation will strengthen the Veterans Choice Program (a federal program that connects veterans with local care providers) while removing constraints that might limit the options available to users. The Mission Act will also reduce appointment wait times at the VA from 30 days to between four and seven and will abolish the 40 mile restriction from the VA.

Another major change already changing veterans healthcare is the Health Information Exchange, a new federal program that facilitates the sharing of digital medical information between providers. Gatz said that she hopes the program will be extended to our local region.

Gatz also discussed future programs on the horizon. She highlighted the Veteran Wellness Act, a piece of legislation that provides a monthly stipend for the spouses of Iraq War veterans. In four years, Gatz says that the program will be expanded to include WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War veterans.

Not everything was positive during the National Convention, however. “One of the biggest disappointments is the lack of the VA Secretary to expand the presumptives for Vietnam veterans,” Gatz said. She added that the VA is currently looking at more medical evidence before making a final decision. The VA is also assessing possible changes to the rating schedule for injuries caused by service. Gatz and her office will have additional updates as they become available.