PENSACOLA — Sacred Heart Health System is now providing care through the Veterans Choice Program, giving veterans the choice to receive care at Sacred Heart locations throughout the region.

As part of Ascension, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare systems and world’s largest Catholic health system, Sacred Heart joins its facilities in serving as an official provider of veterans care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Qualified U.S. veterans who face wait times in excess of 30 days at the VA or have to travel farther than 40 miles from their home can receive care from Sacred Heart doctors at 50 sites between Gulf Shores, Ala. and Apalachicola.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 established funding to pay for healthcare services provided to veterans by private healthcare providers. Through the partnership, Sacred Heart physicians and other caregivers are authorized to provide primary care, inpatient and outpatient specialty care, and mental health for eligible veterans outside of VA.

Ascension has established a contractual agreement with TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a federal contractor to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. TriWest is designated by VA to implement the Veterans Choice Program and provide eligible veterans access to care in their community when the local VA facility cannot readily provide care.

Nearly 9 million veterans received the Veterans Choice Card and its use is strictly voluntary. Veterans who qualify for VA healthcare can continue to receive care at a VA medical facility of their choice, as they have in the past. The program will end when the allocated funds of $10 billion are used, or no later than August 7, 2017.

Veterans can determine eligibility for the program at www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/ or by calling: 1-866-606-8198. Persons interested in learning more about VCP may visit www.ascension.org/veterans.