WASHINGTON – In a Government Accountability Office report released yesterday, investigators found that veterans in the Choice program are often waiting longer to receive their care and are being forced into a system that lacks accountability and oversight.
The GAO report, “Veterans Choice Program: Improvements Needed to Address Access-Related Challenges as VA Plans Consolidation of its Community Care Programs,” analyzed 5,000 Choice authorizations from July through September 2016 and found that the average veteran receiving care outside of the VA waited 51 days to be seen by a medical professional – and “could potentially wait up to 70 calendar days for care,” according to the report.
In response to the report, and the continued efforts by members of Congress to force veterans into private, for-profit health care, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:
“It is appalling that almost four years after the wait list scandal was uncovered, we are once again finding that veterans are waiting anywhere from 51-70 days to receive their care at private, for-profit medical centers outside of the VA while nearly 97 percent are completed within 30 days at the VA.
“Choice was established to improve veterans’ access to care, but clearly that isn’t happening. Sadly, we’re falling further behind in achieving that goal.
“As more reports come out highlighting management’s need to tamp down on waste – including $5 billion of fraudulent spending and $2 billion on failed IT projects – and provide necessary resources to VA employees, it’s clear we need more accountability.
“These privatizers are trying to blame the VA for the failures of its contractors while the agency is denied the resources necessary for proper oversight and management of this privatization program. Simultaneously, veterans are being shunted to Choice because the VA lacks sufficient staff to meet the demand for care.
“And now, as the President and his allies in Congress have made a $52 billion bet on the Choice program – which is endangering veterans – we are at a crossroads. Do we continue to funnel precious dollars into a program that is hurting the VA, or do we fully-fund the health care system veterans overwhelmingly prefer?
“To the more than 260,000 working people at the VA the solution is plain and simple – fund the VA.
“That doesn’t mean fund private companies and contractors through the VA. That means fully staffing and resourcing the dedicated, and capable men and women who have spent their lives serving veterans at the VA.
“Last year, while the House Veterans Affairs Committee was working on H.R. 4242 – the VA Care in the Community Act – Rep. Mark Takano of California attempted to insert amendments that would increase accountability around private care providers, but his amendment was beaten back by Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee and committee Republicans.
“Now, after this GAO report and the 2017 study that found contractors were bilking taxpayers out of more than $90 million, we can safely say that there must be more oversight into private care. We cannot keep funneling patients and vital dollars into health care systems that exist solely to turn a profit and are chomping at the bit to make a buck off the back of our veterans. These providers don’t care about veterans wants and needs, and even the GAO report neglects to address the use of them to supplement the only health care system capable of treating veterans.
“While pro-privatizers backed by the Koch brothers harp on deficiencies at the VA, they ignore the simple facts. The average wait time at the VA to receive care is 6.5 days, and as of March 2017, 96.82 percent of the 5.15 million appointments at the VA were completed within 30 days of the clinically indicated or veteran’s preferred date. There is no doubt that a veteran who is seeking medical care will receive better care and more timely service at the VA.
“Our veterans signed up to serve this country with the promise of a health care system that would take care of them after their tour of duty ended. And while the VA is the best and most capable provider for these veterans, privatizers in Congress and the administration are threatening its very existence.
“We hope that those in Congress who truly care about the well-being of our veterans take notice of the perils of the failing Choice program and put forth an effort to curb wasteful spending and increase oversight before it’s too late.”