PHOENIX (AP) – The federal government made it easier Thursday for thousands of military veterans to get drug prescriptions filled quicker by the Veterans Affairs Department.

The change will let about 200,000 veterans temporarily bypass a requirement that they see a Veterans Affairs doctor before getting their prescriptions filled. The wait for seeing VA doctors can last several months.

Veterans on waiting lists will now be eligible to get drugs prescribed by private doctors from mail-order pharmacies.

The change will affect only a portion of the 7 million people enrolled in the Veterans Affairs health care system. The first prescriptions will be filled Sept. 22.

Still, it is aimed at reducing the backlog doctors face in seeing patients and at getting patients medicine sooner, said Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

“I want to take steps wherever I can to see that they are seen within 30 days,” said Principi, who was in Arizona for a convention of widows of veterans on Thursday.

John Breon, a retired credit counselor who served in the Navy during the Korean War, said the change means he could start saving money sooner on his prescriptions.

Like other veterans, Breon is covered by a private insurer but enrolled in the Veterans Affairs system to take advantage of low-cost drugs.

Instead of paying $250 each month for diabetes, thyroid, prostate and blood pressure medications, Breon believes he can get the same prescriptions for $50.

“Being on a fixed income, $200 a month makes a big difference,” said Breon, who estimates his wait for an appointment with a Veterans Affairs doctor could last more than two months.

Mark Hoggatt, an Air Force veteran with diabetes, said he doesn’t depend on the VA for his health care, but enrolled for the benefit as a backup in case he loses his job. Hoggatt said getting his insulin supply promptly is crucial.

“Coverage means life or death because I’m totally insulin dependent,” said Hoggatt, an engineer who lives in Mesa.

The new policy will cost between $10 million and $40 million.

To qualify for the benefit, veterans must have enrolled in the agency’s health care system or requested their first primary care appointment with a Veterans Affairs doctor by July 25.

They also must have waited more than 30 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor as of Sept. 22.

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