The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is weighing a rule that would allow non-VA companies to provide long term care and rehabilitation services to stricken vets.

The rules, which are expected to take effect, could well be an opportunity for providers, experts say.

“Veterans, who in some cases have had to travel hundreds of miles from their homes to find care in a VA facility, will now be able to play an active role in choosing the best care setting for their needs,” says Jack MacDonald, executive vice president for special projects and chief public affairs officer at Golden Living. “They will be able to receive this care in their communities where their families and support systems are located. It’s also important to note that the rule expands care choices to home health care, palliative care, and non-institutional hospice care—thereby expanding not only the locations in which our veterans may receive care, but expanding the options for choice as well.”

There are some 23 million Americans who rely on VA for health care, and the costs of VA’s major benefits programs are expected to rise 70 percent, to about $130 billion, by 2022. In fiscal 2007 alone, VA spent more than $4.1 billion on long term care for its patients. VA expected to spend some $108 million on nursing home care in fiscal 2009.

The proposed rules are the culmination of a lot of work, says Dough Burr of Health Care Navigator, who is also chair of the American Health Care Association Finance Committee.

“We have been working collaboratively with the VA for many years to get to the point where community nursing homes will now have the regulatory flexibility and reimbursement necessary to deliver high-quality outcome-oriented services to our nation’s veterans,” he says. “This is an example of how government and the private sector can effectively work together for the benefit of people who need post-acute and long term care.”