The Veterans Affairs Department began allowing enrolled veterans to seek medical care services outside traditional VA facilities Thursday, even as some lawmakers and veterans groups have raised concerns about the major agency transition, The New York Times reported.
The VA Mission Act, which formally launches Friday, allows enrollees in the agency’s new Veterans Community Care Program to access private care if they live more than a 30-minute drive from a VA facility providing primary care, mental health or home health services, or a 60-minute drive from VA specialty care, according to a VA press release.
The program also allows enrollees to seek private care if VA appointment wait times for primary care, mental health or home health services exceed 20 days and 28-day wait times for specialty care.
VA enrollees previously faced 30-day wait times before they could seek private care. The agency’s goal is to reduce waits to 14 days by 2020.
Lawmakers have said they will be following the transition to see whether problems arise.
“Let’s just say that we’re skeptical,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) told CQ. “I’m of course looking forward to working with the secretary and his top administrators to address any unforeseen challenges that may arise.”
The major private care transition comes as key lawmakers are also pressing the VA to address claims of a “secret” patient wait list that shows a more enrollees seeking VA care than has been publicly available.
The VA national director of clinic practice management said he raised concerns that internal data shows the number of veterans awaiting care is three times greater than the VA publicly shares.
“In September last year I discovered a secret VA wait list, Jereme Whiteman wrote in a letter to Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, according to an op-ed by Whiteman published Monday in the Washington Post. “I disclosed this wait list within my VHA chain of command. Since that date I have been retaliated against by officials within my chain of command. Furthermore, the agency has taken steps to conceal this wait list from the public.”
A VA spokeswoman has said Whiteman’s allegations are false and that the discrepancy in veteran lists stems from separate internal tracking systems.
Department of Defense photo by Reese Brown