GOP Sen. Mark Kirk called the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) attempt to allow veterans access to care outside the agency an abysmal failure on Friday.
His remarks come just after the release of a new watchdog report that showed staff at the Colorado Springs VA did not add 56 vets to the Veterans Choice List (VCL), which would have enabled them to seek care outside the department. Staff finally managed to add 173 veterans to the VCL, but only after an extended period of time had elapsed.
Those veterans had been waiting much longer than 30 days for an appointment at the VA. This is exactly the point of the Choice Program, as veterans who wait longer than 30 days are supposed to have the option to receive private care outside the VA.
But instead of helping those veterans receive the care they needed regardless of the source, staff changed the appointment dates for 59 veterans so that it seemed as though veterans had only waited 30 days. The inspector general’s report did not confirm whether this change was accidental or on purpose.
The program was originally created for two main reasons: First, because of previously manipulated appointment wait lists at the Phoenix VA, and second, because veterans often have to wait far longer than 30 days for an appointment. Some of the Colorado veterans examined by the watchdog in this report had waited nearly eight months for an appointment.
To Sen. Kirk, the inspector general report on Colorado Springs is the latest example of delayed Choice Program requests.
“I consistently hear reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs is delaying the process of veterans’ requests to use the Choice Act, delaying the approval of provider participation in Choice, and delaying payments to participating providers,” Kirk said Friday in a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald.
“Given the VHA’s demonstrated inability to provide even basic care, let alone comprehensive services, I find it particularly disappointing that VHA continues to stymie the private sector’s attempts to address veteran patient needs,” he added.
The Choice Program has taken such heat for poor performance that the federal government is soon launching a comprehensive audit of the program through the Government Accountability Office.
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