The Department of Veterans Affairs has never had the best reputation when it comes to delivering timely, high-quality care to America’s veterans. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the VA’s healthcare system took a massive hit, with millions of canceled or rescheduled appointments. More than a year after the start of the pandemic, the VA still hasn’t recovered.
Between March 15, 2020, and May 1, 2020, the VA canceled more than seven million appointments. Worse, the VA did not track the outcome of one-third of those appointments, so watchdogs do not know if the untracked appointments were rescheduled. In total, the VA has canceled or rescheduled almost 20 million appointments since the start of the pandemic. These appointments have caused a large ripple effect throughout the VA system as providers try to find a way to serve more veterans without sacrificing quality.
Due to geographic limitations, the VA system cannot provide necessary services to every veteran. Under federal law, the VA must pay for third-party care for any veteran who must drive more than 30 minutes for primary care and more than 60 minutes for specialty care. The VA does not always communicate these requirements to veterans, nor does the VA pay third parties in a timely manner: Over two million claims from non-VA community care providers have not been paid. Without timely payment to third-party providers, the VA may create a situation where veterans are turned away from private doctors, just like Medicaid patients.
The VA is mandated by law to provide primary care appointments within 20 days of a veteran’s request. Over the past year, veterans have waited 41.9 days—more than double the maximum allowable wait time—to receive appointments with community care providers. The VA’s metrics for tracking wait time also lag behind the legal requirements of the MISSION Act Community Care Program, making it hard to know exactly how far behind the VA is.
Currently, the VA has not communicated a clear plan to improve its services. While the VA deserves some flexibility due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, millions of veterans are anxiously waiting to know how much longer it will take for them to get the healthcare services they’ve earned.