VA chief: Wait times down, choice cards in mail _lowres

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald speaks at a media breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, in Washington. The Veterans Affairs Department says wait times for veterans seeking health care have been reduced by 18 percent since May as efforts to reform the troubled agency continue. (AP Photo/Michael Bonfigli, The Christian Science Monitor)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Veterans Affairs Department says it has reduced wait times for appointments at VA health care facilities by 18 percent since May.

Meanwhile, so-called choice cards began going out this week to thousands of veterans who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic allowing them to see local doctors instead. Improved access to outside medical care is a key component of a new law intended to reduce wait times for veterans and fix longstanding problems at the agency.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald revealed the changes Thursday as he prepares to mark 100 days in office — just in time for Veterans Day on Tuesday. McDonald said the VA has taken a series of actions to improve services to veterans, rebuild trust and increase accountability and transparency.