VA Choice Patients Still Face Long Waits

NGAUS Washington Report
June 5, 2018

Veterans using the Choice program at the Department of Veterans Affairs to avoid long waits for appointments are having little luck. A government report says veterans can still wait 10 weeks to receive care from a private provider.

The Government Accountability Office released its report Monday entitled “Improvements Needed to Address Access-Related Challenges as VA Plans Consolidation of its Community Care Programs.”

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Congress created the Choice program in 2014 when veterans complained of long waits to receive care at VA facilities. Choice allows them to seek care from private providers and send the bill to the government if they wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live far from a VA clinic or hospital. The patients must receive referrals from VA medical centers for the private care.

But the GAO found that the wait can still be 70 days after a referral from a VA medical center. The problem is the unwieldy and time-consuming process for making appointments.

“This is not consistent with the statutory requirement that veterans receive Choice Program care within 30 days of their clinically indicated date (when available) which is the soonest date that it would be appropriate for the veteran to receive care,” the report says.

The GAO examined 55 routine authorizations from early 2016 and found the average wait time was 64 days.

The report comes just days before President Donald Trump plans to sign the VA Mission Act, a $52 billion reform package passed by Congress last month. It does away with the Choice program, but consolidates other community-care programs in the VA.

The GAO says that without changes to the appointment-scheduling process, such as better monitoring, improved data collection and setting goals for wait times, the new reforms will suffer the same consequences.

“Ignoring these lessons learned and the challenges that have arisen under the Choice Program as VA and [Veterans’ Health Administration] design the future consolidated program would only increase VA’s risk for not being able to ensure that all veterans will receive timely access to care in the community,” the report concludes.