by Micaela Burrow
House Democrats voted against a bill intended to increase transparency into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) wait time calculations at a committee markup Wednesday, as complaints mount that the VA is fudging data.
The proposed amendment from Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona would have required the VA to hand over documents relating to wait time calculations after the VA’s internal watchdog found in April that the department may be manipulating patient data to conceal the duration veterans have to wait before receiving medical care at VA facilities. The Democratic majority on the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) gave it an unfavorable recommendation Wednesday, effectively nullifying it before Congress, Fox News first reported.
“A closer look reveals that some VA facilities have months-long wait times for new patients or existing patients seeking specific care,” Mike Bost, a Republican representative from Illinois who also sits on the committee, said at the hearing. “Long wait times at VA medical centers and delays in accessing care [in the] community are unacceptable.”
The VA insists on using a scheduling procedure that obscures the number of days a veteran has to wait before receiving health care from VA facilities, Bost claimed, according to Fox News.
“Calculating aggregate wait times is a complex endeavor,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told the Daily Caller News Foundation, adding that heath care requests are processed on a “personalized, case-by-case” basis.
Congress passed the MISSION Act in 2018 capping acceptable wait times at 20 days for primary care and 28 days for specialty care, after which veterans should be able to pursue VA-funded health care options in the private sector, termed “community care” by the VA.
However, some Republicans and observers allege that the VA is counting from the day an administrative “scheduler” begins the process of setting up an appointment, rather than the day of a veteran’s initial request, according to Fox News. It can take weeks for a veteran’s appointment request to reach the scheduler’s desk.
“The inconsistent use of start dates for calculating wait times can be misleading and may result in inaccurate reporting,” the VA’s Inspector General said in the April report.
Democrats disagreed that the HVAC Republicans’ proposal would advance accountability for VA wait time calculations, according to Fox News.
“This resolution really would present an unduly burdensome and pointless paperwork exercise for VA and will ultimately reveal nothing that is not already known about VA’s wait time calculations,” HVAC Chairman Rep. Mark Takano of California told the outlet.
Is it too much work to ensure veterans receive timely care? Some members of Congress seem to think so. https://t.co/TgAKnDI3F6
— Concerned Veterans for America (@ConcernedVets) November 16, 2022
“VA’s past and current wait time measurements are flawed, inaccurate, and deceptive – they do not follow the VA Mission Act law and the Veterans Community Care Program regulation,” Darin Selnick, a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America and former top adviser to the VA Secretary, told Fox News.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough told Congress in September that “we are not where we need to be on timely scheduling those referrals [to community care appointments] — but as we have seen this record volume, we are making steady progress in reducing wait times.”
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Micaela Burrow is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Veteran Affairs Logo” by Ed Schipul. CC BY-SA 2.0.