Strengthening Veterans Health Care
Like health care providers worldwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and made subsequent changes in health care delivery for veterans to help stem the outbreak. While VHA continued to meet veterans’ ongoing and emerging health care needs, like other health care systems, it had to delay non-emergent care, limit in-person services and significantly increase the use of telehealth to address veterans’ care needs.
In the midst of this crisis, VHA continued its efforts to modernize the system and improve its infrastructure. It is still implementing its Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP), required under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-182). VHA has continued to transform its information technology systems, including phasing in its new electronic health record and scheduling packages and has significantly increased telehealth capabilities. VHA is revising supply chain practices to improve availability of critical items such as personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies. The Department also focused on developing community partnerships to expand telehealth access in rural communities and increased opportunities to receive needed treatment such as urgent care and vaccinations closer to home.
In response to the pandemic, Congress passed legislation to increase veterans’ access to non-VA care for mental health and suicide prevention services establishing grant programs for community partners and access to emergency mental health care for veterans in crisis.
Under the MISSION Act, VA was also required to undertake an Asset Infrastructure Review (AIR) to modernize and realign VHA’s health infrastructure resources. VHA is required to complete market assessments in consultation with veterans service organizations (VSO) in preparation for this review. DAV has expressed concern that changing utilization of health care caused by recently enacted legislation and the pandemic may have lasting effects and will not be adequately reflected in any assessments that have been conducted to date. AIR Commission Members are to be appointed by the end of May 2021. In light of the very fluid situation caused by COVID-19, DAV is hopeful that Congress will reconsider the mandated deadlines and extend the period of time VA has to complete its work, in consultation with VSOs as part of this important process.