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Watchdog: Accountability

Veterans Affairs problems don't disappear for vets in private hospitals, GAO says

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Watchdog,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,Accountability,GAO,Veterans,Monica Perez

Allowing veterans to seek health care at private hospitals does not mean the long wait lists they face at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities will disappear.

Because VA does not collect data regarding veteran wait times from non-VA providers, it is impossible for the agency to determine whether the veterans are receiving timely care, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In response to serious scheduling problems at VA facilities, then-Secretary Eric Shinseki announced last month that veterans could use private health providers if they were not receiving timely care within the agency-imposed deadlines. The private care would be covered by the VA.

But this is proving to be another empty promise, according to GAO, by the scandal-plagued agency, which is in the news for hidden waitlists, delayed care and patient deaths.

Officials at an unnamed VA hospital told GAO investigators that non-VA providers in the surrounding community faced problems with hospital capacity and may not be able to schedule appointments for veterans any sooner than the VA’s facility, according to the report.

Information about wait-times of non-VA care will not be available until the agency redesigns its system for processing claims, a project that won’t be done until 2016, GAO said.

Veterans Affairs also lacks a system to combine all non-VA care given to a patient in a single visit. For example, if a veteran were issued an X-ray and a blood test in the same visit, they would appear as two separate claims, preventing a cohesive organization of the data.

Without uniform data, VA cannot determine whether delivering care through private providers is more economical than expanding the size of its hospitals, especially in areas that are used less in VA facilities.

The lack of communication between VA and non-VA providers has also caused confusion for many veterans seeking treatment.

A veteran with chest pain drove more than 100 miles to the nearest VA facility rather than to a non-VA emergency department because he was unaware of his coverage, the report said.

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Monica Perez

Special to the Examiner
The Washington Examiner