More Information Needed for Providing Non-VA Care to Veterans

By Rebecca Autrey

(June 19, 2014) The Government Accountability Office said Wednesday there is not enough data to fully analyze benefits of health care provided to veterans by doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a positive option, according to health care administrators and officials who run non-VA medical programs, but more information may be needed for full confidence in relying on outside care.

“At the national and local levels, the VA does not have the oversight system to monitor the non-VA program,” said Randy Williamson, the director of health care at the Government Accountability Office. “Once a veteran is authorized to use the [non-VA] care, the VA does not track how long the veteran waits to see the provider. So little is known about wait times for these veterans.”

The issue was presented to lawmakers during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing called “Non-VA Care: An Integrated Solution for Veteran Access.” It came a week after an internal audit conducted by the Veterans Health Administration showed 57,000 veterans waited more than three months for a first doctor's appointment and 64,000 others have yet to see a doctor despite being part of the system for 10 years.

NGAUS supports expanded access to non-VA care for veterans. An integrated system can provide a broader network of support for National Guardsmen who live in rural areas, giving them more immediate access to quality care.  

Several advocates at the hearing said providing health care to veterans outside the VA is working.

Kris Doody, the chief executive officer of Cary Medical Center in Caribou, Maine, talked about her hospital’s involvement in Project Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH. Through Project ARCH, Cary coordinates daily with employees of VA Medical Center-Togus in Augusta, Maine.

The two facilities work together to connect veterans in the rural community of Caribou with health care providers closer to home. Doody says the program is working, and veterans appreciate the opportunity to stay closer to home near friends and family.

David McIntyre, Jr., the president and chief executive officer of TriWest HealthCare Alliance, told the panel that TriWest was contracted to run Patient-Centered Community Care (PC3), a Veterans Health Administration program designed to provide eligible veterans access to non-VA care.

“Complaints are minimal,” he said, largely because providers of non-VA health care are high-quality doctors.

Philip Matkovsky, the assistant deputy under secretary for health administrative operations at the Veterans Health Administration, spoke on behalf of the VA at the hearing. 

“We will use non-VA care where it is required,” he said, “based on when, where and how a veteran needs care.”