Veterans still waiting months for appointments at VA

Jonathan Kaupanger
June 05, 2018 - 2:17 pm

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Some veterans are waiting up to 70 days to use a program that was created to reduce appointment wait times. 

The recently passed VA Mission Act is meant to consolidate VA’s seven Community Care programs. Once it becomes law, this is supposed to take care of the wait problem too. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released this week, it just won’t work until VA comes up with appointment scheduling processes among other fixes. In fact, the three words that describe things right now are lacks, inaccuracy and unreliable.

Where the VA says it takes 51 days for veterans to get to their appointments, GAO says the wait time is more like 64 days.

What the VA lacks:

The authors of the report found that the data VHA uses to monitor the timeless of appointments in Choice is wrong. It doesn’t track the amount of time it takes a VAMC to prepare a referral and then send it to the third part administrator (TPA). VA works with two TPA’s and these are the originations that actually makes the referral. And on that point, VA doesn’t tract the time it takes a TPA to actually schedule the veteran’s appointment either.

VA did come up with a temporary solution on this, but it’s a process that’s prone to error because it relies on staff to enter information by hand.

Inaccuracy of VA data:

The report stated that some of VA’s data is charged by staff before they send referrals to TPA. GAO found this happens about 23 percent of the time and it masks the veterans’ true wait times. It is unclear if this is done on purpose or if this was due to simple human error when putting dates manually into the system.

Unreliable data:

When a referral is marked urgent, the appointment is supposed to take place within two days of the TPA accepting it. Appointments are only urgent when a VHA clinician has decided that the care is essential to evaluate and stabilize the vet’s condition and if delayed the result would be morbidity or pain. During the review process, 28 percent of these referrals had been changed to urgent by either VA or TPA staff as a way to speed up the process.

The report ends with ten recommendations for the VA that will make the new, consolidated program better. VA has agreed with all but one of these recommendations which was to have clinically urgent referrals separated from those that are administratively sped up.

Also, GAO stated, for the new Community Care Program, VA needs to come up with a much better way to monitor the time it takes to prepare referrals, schedule and complete appointments. There should also be a way to prevent clinically indicated dates from being modified by someone other than the veterans’ healthcare provider. 

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