In 13 days, the Department of Veterans Affairs will face its first major deadline for implementing the VA MISSION Act. This new law mandates an overhaul of the VA’s health care system, providing veterans more choices over where they receive their medical care.
The department needs to stick to the schedule set by the VA MISSION Act if it wants to successfully implement the new health care program. Those deadlines were put in place to avoid the pitfalls of the Veterans Choice Program, which was hastily created in the wake of the nationwide VA scandal in 2014.
Here are just a few problems the Choice Program had that the VA MISSION Act will address:
- A Rushed Rollout – The VA had only 90 days to get the Veterans Choice Program established and running. Poor management decisions were inevitable under such pressure. The VA MISSION Act addresses this flaw by setting up milestones and checkpoints for the VA as it implements the new Veterans Community Care Program.
- Arbitrary Eligibility Standards – Under the Choice Program, access to care outside the VA is based on arbitrary criteria. Veterans must live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or be on a wait list for more than 30 days to qualify for community care. The VA MISSION Act requires the VA to reestablish its eligibility criteria based on clear access and quality standards and give progress reports along the way.
- Too Many Complex Programs – Confusion over eligibility criteria is compounded by a complex network of non-VA care programs. When the Choice Program became law, the VA had seven community care programs, each with different eligibility standards. They’re difficult to navigate and don’t communicate with each other well. Under the MISSION Act, those programs will be combined into one – the Veterans Community Care Program. That will cut down on confusing standards and miscommunication between programs.
- Lack of Coordination – Rather than keep all billing and scheduling in-house, the Choice Program uses third-party vendors to coordinate care between the VA and community providers. When the VA contracted with these vendors, it didn’t give clear written guidance as to how care should be delivered and coordinated. That resulted in incorrect payments, long wait times for veterans and even the eventual termination of one vendor’s contract. Among the first milestones the VA must meet is a plan for revamping coordination of non-VA care.
The VA’s past failures in implementing choice legislation serve as a case study for how it should (and shouldn’t) approach the new Veterans Community Care Program. This time around, the VA is required from the beginning to address eligibility standards, management and communication to avoid the problems of its past.
The VA MISSION Act is an opportunity to get this done right for veterans so they can access the medical care they earned.