Fix For VA Health Snarls Veterans And Doctors In New Bureaucracy

Source: Quil Lawrence, Eric Whitney, and Michael Tomsic, Kaiser Health News, May 16, 2016

Veterans are still waiting to see a doctor. Two years ago, vets were waiting a long time for care at Veterans Affairs clinics. At one facility in Phoenix, for example, veterans waited on average 115 days for an appointment. … Congress and the VA came up with a fix: Veterans Choice, a $10 billion program. Veterans received a card that was supposed to allow them to see a non-VA doctor if they were either more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or they were going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA provider to see them. The problem was, Congress gave them only 90 days to set up the system. Facing that deadline, the VA turned to two private companies to administer the program — helping veterans get an appointment with a doctor and then working with the VA to pay that doctor. … Wait times have gotten worse. Compared to this time last year, there are 70,000 more appointments where it took vets at least a month to be seen, according to the VA’s own audit. …

… This is playing out in a big way in Montana. That state has more veterans per capita than any state besides Alaska. … Hospitals, clinics and doctors across the country have complained about not getting paid, or only paid very slowly. Some have just stopped taking Veterans Choice patients altogether, and Montana’s largest health care network, Billings Clinic, doesn’t accept any VA Choice patients. … The delays have become a frustration within the VA, too. Tymalyn James is a nurse care manager at the VA clinic in Wilmington, North Carolina. She said Choice has made the original problem worse. When she and her colleagues are swamped and refer someone outside the VA, it’s supposed to help the veteran get care more quickly. But James said the opposite is happening. …