Veterans Face Growing Wait Lists for Health Care as VA Funding Falls Short
Aug 19, 2015
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) August 19, 2015 – The number of veterans on health care waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than it was a year ago when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was battling a scandal over falsified records and long wait times, according to VA officials.
The agency is also facing a budget shortfall of $2.7 billion. According to the VA, health care costs have risen due to increased demand by veterans for new hepatitis C treatments and prosthetic limbs, as well as programs for sending patients to doctors outside the VA system.
“Veterans have the right to receive the health care they need in a timely manner. Although the VA has been taking steps to address the rise in patient demand for services, the department seems to be lacking foresight in tackling problems before they get out of hand,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan-based veterans disability attorney.
Since the 2014 scandal involving wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital, the department has increased capacity by more than seven million appointments for care over the past year, which is double what officials originally thought was needed to fix shortcomings.
However, the VA did not anticipate the rise in demand for health care from veterans around the country. At some major veterans hospitals in regions such as Alabama and Virginia, demand has risen by one-fifth. Despite expanding access to care with more staff, appointments and authorization for outside care, veterans are still facing longer wait times.
“We have been pushing to accelerate access to care for veterans . . . As we improve access, even more veterans are coming to VA for their care,” said VA deputy secretary Sloan Gibson. The department is discussing hiring freezes, furloughs and other measures to deal with the crisis.
Medication costs have risen by nearly 17 percent, primarily due to a new hepatitis C treatment that is more effective but costlier. The VA has been accused of being slow to recognize how much demand and costs would soar for the treatments.
“Despite receiving money to help reduce wait times, the VA is unable to manage their resources and maximize them to help veterans in need,” Fausone said.
Gibson hopes to get approval from Congress to shift funds around to deal with the budget crisis. An option includes using money from the new Choice Card program, which allows certain veterans on waiting lists to obtain taxpayer-funded care from private doctors outside the VA system. The program was launched in response to last year’s scandal in Phoenix.
The VA is also debating a controversial proposal that involves the rationing of hepatitis C treatment among veterans, with those suffering from advanced terminal diseases or dementia being excluded.
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