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Veterans Affairs Response to the Inspector

by Joe Whitcomb / September 27, 2014

The Inspector General's Recommendations  for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs was recently released. Many able bodied and disabled veterans utilize the VA Health Care System for their medical needs.  As we’ve reported in previous blogs, the system has been the subject of multiple scandals in the past few months.

What’s Been Going On?

In May 2014, the Inspector General (IG) confirmed whistle-blower assertions that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System concealed patient delays in medical care in violation of scheduling policies. VA administrators claimed wait-times of only 24 days; in reality, new patients were forced to wait approximately 4 months. The VA administrators used the false data to meet goals tied to bonus pay and job evaluations. The revelations led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has investigated over 80 other facilities since the initial scandal.

The good news is that the VA has made progress since the OIG’s report. In a public statement, Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson detailed the steps the VA has made toward implementing the OIG’s recommendations.

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The OIG recommended that the VA Secretary work immediately to: 1) provide health care for the 1,700 veterans that the OIG found were not on any existing waitlist; 2) provide medical care to those veterans whose health may be most affected by health care delays; 3) review veterans wait-lists nationwide; and 4) work with the Health Eligibility Center in a nationwide effort to provide a New Enrollee Appointment Request (NEAR) report detailing the status of veterans who either received care or are on a facility’s electronic waiting list.

In response to the OIG’s first recommendation, the VA reached out to all Phoenix-based veterans that the OIG identified in order to immediately schedule appointments. Of those contacted, the VA made appointments for 1,035 veterans. Of the remaining 665 veterans that the OIG identified, the VA determined either that the veteran did not want an appointment or were unreachable.

In order to provide care for those veterans most at risk, the VA reached out to 5,000 veterans located in the Phoenix area. Through their efforts, the VA scheduled 2,300 appointments at the Phoenix VA Health Care System and referred 2,713 veterans to non-VA care providers in the area.

The VA’s nationwide review led to approximately 200,000 new VA appointments between May 15 and June 15, 2014. Where VA facilities were unable to increase capacity, the VA secured medical care for veterans through non-VA medical facilities. The VA referred an estimated 40,000 veterans.

Finally, the Health Eligibility Center, in connection with the Veterans Health Administration Support Services Center, developed a report to identify those individuals waiting on the NEAR list. On May 15, 2014, approximately 64,000 Veterans were considered pending on the list; by July 15, 2014, the agencies were able to decrease the number of veterans on that list to a mere 2,100 individuals. However, of those removed from the list, 52 percent of the veterans are still in process.

Veterans will have to wait and see whether newly-appointed VA Secretary Robert McDonald can maintain the VA’s recent improvements once the media attention and subsequent pressure on the VA dissipates.

If you are a disabled veteran with questions about how recent VA developments affect you, contact the attorneys at either Whitcomb, Selinsky Law PC or its sister firm, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today. Call (303) 543-1958 or fill out an online contact form.

Tags: Veterans Disability

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