Whenever a VA facility is unable to provide timely medical care to veterans, it must be VA’s responsibility to find, arrange and coordinate care through non-VA providers; however that takes more than just giving a veteran a voucher or a card. To ensure the best health outcomes for veterans, VA must continue to be responsible for coordinating their care amongst various VA and non-VA providers and for maintaining a single, unified electronic health record. No purchased care program can fix VA’s access problems without sufficient and dedicated funding, separate from the funding required to operate VA’s hospitals and clinics.
VA already has the authority to purchase non-VA care for veterans from community providers and is currently calling all veterans on waiting lists to arrange for them to be seen immediately either within the VA system or by a private provider. Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said yesterday that “VA’s first priority is to get all veterans off waiting lists and into clinics while we address the underlying issues that have been impeding veterans’ access to healthcare.” We support this initiative and urge VA to request, and Congress to immediately appropriate, any additional funding needed this year.
Ultimately, this crisis of access cannot be addressed without ensuring that VA has all the resources it needs to properly fulfill its mission. DAV and our Independent Budget partners have repeatedly told successive Administrations and Congresses that the VA health care system has been underfunded by at least $15 billion over the past decade. With those missing resources, VA could have expanded its clinics and hospitals and hired more doctors and nurses to meet the growing demand for VA health care by veterans. While VA certainly must strengthen its management, hold people accountable and increase transparency, it is the growing resource gap that is most responsible for the access problems today.
The quality of VA health care is not in question; in terms of patient safety, prevention, and patient satisfaction, VA hospitals rank equal to or better than private hospitals. The VA health system offers unparalleled medical and scientific knowledge of the injuries and illnesses afflicting veterans—from spinal cord injury to PTSD to rare cancers linked to Agent Orange exposure. Unless we maintain a robust and fully-funded VA, even more veterans will find themselves unable to access quality care and treatment they need and have earned, especially those who require specialized services not unavailable in the private sector.