CVA on OIG report on patient wait time data: ‘opening the door for more confusion and delays in care’
Veterans group calls out VA’s selective calculation and presentation of wait times and the confusion it has created for veterans needing clarity in getting care
ARLINGTON, Va.—A memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General on Thursday acknowledges the VA is calculating patient wait times using multiple methods and incomplete and/or selective data sets. This produces different, inconsistent sets of wait times, creating or adding to uncertainty and confusion when a veteran needs care. Additionally, the VA seems to have used these flawed calculations and data as evidence of performance success and compliance with the law.
“I fear this is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Russ Duerstine, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Deputy Director. “CVA has been calling out the VA’s transgressions in both calculation and presentation of patient wait times. I can only imagine the frustration a veteran must experience when they can’t find a straight answer to how long it will take to get care. I can’t understand why the VA would resist implementing a standardized wait time and remove variables that only muddy the waters more than they already are.”
“Possibly more aggravating is the admission the VA has been using this incorrect data as evidence of superior or matched performance compared to the private sector. It appears, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, the VA is more interested in self-preservation than serving the veterans who rely on it. This is unacceptable and dishonors the service and sacrifices of our nation’s bravest.”
In addition to acknowledging the use of inconsistent wait time data, the report admits to the confusion the inconsistency creates:
“VHA has presented wait times with different methodologies, using inconsistent start dates that affect the overall calculations without clearly and accurately presenting that information to the public.”
“The inconsistent use of start dates for calculating wait times can be misleading and may result in inaccurate reporting.”
“VHA has published wait time data based on start dates that are inconsistent with VHA policy and publicly stated methodologies, and the stated description of methodologies on its website may be misleading.”
 “The complainant did not question VA’s process of assessing wait times for purposes of eligibility determinations. Therefore, the OIG did not evaluate whether VA staff were accurately determining community care eligibility as part of this review. Rather, VA’s community care access standards for wait times were examined to help demonstrate the confusion caused by having different start dates for different purposes.”
The report finds that VHA’s then executive-in-charge relied on improper data to suggest the VA was meeting the access standard for wait times established by the Veteran Community Care Program under the VA MISSION Act in testimony before congress:
For example, in a September 2019 testimony, VHA’s then executive-in-charge seemingly relied on average wait time data to opine on achieving community care eligibility wait time standards. In response to a member’s question about whether VA’s access standards for community care are achievable and working, the executive-in-charge stated, “I would say yes, they are achievable and have been achieved for the most part. In mental health, the 20-day access standard, 139 of our 141 sites are meeting the 20-day access standard.”
The memo, “Concerns with Consistency and Transparency in the calculation and Disclosure of Patient Wait Time Data,” raises more questions about the VA’s implementation of the VA MISSION Act and its compliance with the law. Information obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests has revealed the Department of Veterans Affairs is using outdated guidance and intentionally driving veterans away from non-VA care.
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