At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs began canceling veterans’ appointments. Nearly 20 million were canceled, delayed, or rescheduled, leaving many veterans without much needed medical care during a national health crisis.
New standards set by Congress in the VA MISSION Act have been in place for more than two years. They stipulate veterans can access community care if they wait more than 20 days for primary and mental health care, and 28 days for specialty care; or if they drive more than 30 minutes for primary and mental health care, and 60 minutes for specialty care.
Frustratingly, the VA is ignoring the law and still using old scheduling guidance to determine community care eligibility, meaning veterans are being denied access to non-VA care.
By fudging dates, and canceling appointments outright, the VA has punted hundreds of thousands of appointments to avoid offering non-VA care – at the expense of timely and important needs that countless veterans have.
The VA’s own guidance dissuades veterans from using community care options.
Guidance documents for VA employees puts the responsibility on existing patients to ask for a review of eligibility for community care rather than requiring schedulers to do so.
The VA also provides scripts to schedulers that use incorrect data about non-VA provider wait times, and puts coordinating community care on the veteran despite the MISSION Act explicitly placing that responsibility on the VA.
Each of these findings spells a giant disaster in the making. When the VA doesn’t follow the law, veterans suffer. Leaders at the VA need to stop attempting to get around the law and start putting veterans and their care first. If that takes freezing their bonuses to get them to act, then let’s get it done!