The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill June 10 that should help veterans receive timelier healthcare.
The Veteran Access to Care Act, co-sponsored by Congressman David Jolly, who represents Pinellas County’s District 13, and Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who represents District 12, allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to contract with non-VA facilities to provide care for eligible veterans among other things.
“This was a simple step that can provide immediate relief for some veterans waiting months for needed care,” Jolly said in a June 10 press release. “Utilizing the private sector and non-VA facilities to reduce these wait times is not only common sense, but the fastest way to get veterans the care they need.”
As of Friday afternoon, the bill was still pending in the Senate.
Veterans Intake Day
Jolly visited Pinellas County June 17 for a Veterans Intake Day at his office on the St. Petersburg College campus in Seminole. He wanted to get first-hand information from veterans who use local VA services.
Veterans were asked to take a survey, which 183 of the more than 300 who came to intake day completed. About 40 percent said they had already asked to be referred to a non-VA provider, and 48 percent said results of those requests had been poor or very poor, “indicating there’s a strong reluctance on the part of the VA to send people to a non-VA provider,” Jolly said.
“There is a strong interest on the part of local veterans to go outside the VA system for care. And if the VA cannot provide timely care at VA facilities, veterans should have expanded options to see private sector doctors and medical providers,” Jolly said in a press release sent out June 18.
“At a time when we are hearing about wait times lasting months, we must eliminate barriers that prevent veterans from getting the care they deserve,” he continued. “The VA has made great strides in the last several weeks to clear the waitlist by using non-VA medical providers. But long-term reform must include statutory changes to fully put veterans in charge of their health care. Veterans deserve a choice. Plain and simple."
Jolly said information gleaned June 17 shows that changes that are “more dramatic” are needed to “ensure veterans have control of their medical provider decisions.”
Of those surveyed, 49 said they had waited more than 45 days from the time they requested an appointment until they were able to see a primary physician. Thirty-six waited from 31 to 45 days, 43 for 15 to 30 days and 27 less than 14 days.
Forty-three reported waiting more than 90 days to get an appointment with a specialist. Thirty-four reported waiting 45 to 90 days, 60 waiting 15 to 45 days and 18 said they had waited less than 14 days.
Still, sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said care at the local VA was adequate or better. Jolly said many veterans attended intake day just to compliment the staff and administration at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, aka Bay Pines, and the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Jolly said. “We’ve heard for weeks from a number of veterans who say despite the ongoing scandal, they love the care they receive through the VA and that reflects the commitment of so many of the hardworking VA employees.”
Jolly also learned that many veterans had recently been contacted by the VA to assist with getting them off the waitlist and into private sector healthcare.
Jolly said finding solutions to the VA healthcare scandal should not center on assigning blame.
“Rather it needs to spark a dialogue of ideas that leads to change - a continued dialogue and coordination between our veterans, the VA, and the Congress,” he said. “Comprehensive reform must address the interest of our veterans first and foremost."