VA still mishandling appointments and misreporting wait times

From staff reports

Newly enrolled veterans still face administrative obstacles to primary care appointments in the Veterans Affairs health system and others are seeing wide variations in wait time, per a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.

VA centers are still misreporting wait times, the report said.

Primary care services are critical because they are the entry point for specialty referrals.

About half of veterans surveyed who hadn’t yet seen a provider couldn’t get an appointment in accordance with Veterans Health Administration agency policy.

gao va reportVHA policy states that medical centers should document three attempts to contact each newly enrolled veteran by phone, and if unsuccessful, send the veteran a letter, the report notes.

Veterans who had been seen experienced wait times between 22 and 71 days.
Enforcing accountability is difficult because the VA is still using the veteran’s preferred appointment date to calculate wait time, rather than starting from the original request date.

“…we found one veteran applied for VHA health care benefits in December 2014, which included a request to be contacted for an initial appointment.

“The VA medical center contacted the veteran to schedule a primary care appointment 43 days later.

“When making the appointment, the medical center recorded the veteran’s preferred date as March 1, 2015, and the veteran saw a provider on March 3, 2015.

“Although the medical center’s data showed the veteran waited 2 days to see a provider, the total amount of time that elapsed from the veteran’s request until the veteran was seen was actually 76 days,” per an April 19 summary to Congress from GAO Health Care Director Debra Draper.

GAO recommended that VHA ensure veterans requesting appointments are contacted in a timely manner; monitor the full amount of time newly enrolled veterans wait to receive primary care; and issue an updated scheduling policy.

VA concurred with all of GAO’s recommendations and identified actions it is taking to implement them, per the report.

Read the full report HERE

The VHA health care system enrolls about 380,000 new veterans per year.

The VA provided care to about 6.6 million veterans in fiscal year 2014, at a $58 billion cost. VHA’s medical facilities include 167 medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

In 2015, GAO added VA care to their High Risk List. The list identifies Federal programs with particular vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.

Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act in August 2014, which provided veterans who have waited over 30 days or face lengthy travel distances the opportunity to obtain care from non-VA providers.

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