When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs was turned on its head. Suddenly, millions of medical appointments were canceled, both at VA facilities and in community care programs. Non-urgent care has yet to get back to normal.
A year later, America’s veterans have felt the effects of COVID-19 and canceled medical appointments. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- 19.7 million – number of appointments the VA has canceled, delayed, or rescheduled since the pandemic hit.
- 7.3 million – number of appointments canceled between March 15 and May 1 last year. Those appointments included primary, mental health, and specialty care.
- 2.3 million – number of those canceled appointments that had no indication of any follow up tracking. Meaning, there is no way to know if the VA has followed up to reschedule those appointments for medical care.
- 30 – maximum number of minutes a veteran should have to drive to a VA facility for primary care before being offered access to community care through the VA MISSION Act. For specialty care, the law stipulates that anything over a 60-minute drive should qualify a vet for community care access.
- 210 – number of miles roundtrip a Massachusetts veteran with multiple sclerosis had to drive to receive care from a VA facility, rather than being offered and referred out to community care based on the access standard of drive time or best medical interest. That appointment was across the state line in Connecticut and there was a blizzard the day of the appointment.
- 20 – maximum number of days a veteran should have to wait from the date of request for primary care, mental health care, and non-institutional extended care services under the VA MISSION Act, or 28 days of the date of request for specialty care.
- 41.9 – average reported number of days veterans spend waiting for a community care appointment.
- 2.5 million – last reported number of unpaid claims from community care providers, before the pandemic started.
- ? – average days from the time of request veterans are waiting for VA appointments. Because the VA is still using wait-time metrics from the Veterans Choice Program, which was replaced by the MISSION Act Community Care Program access standards almost two years ago, so there is no way to know how long veterans are waiting at the VA from time of requested appointment.
Millions of untracked canceled appointments, poor coordination for community care appointments, and irrelevant data are creating the perfect storm for another wait-time scandal, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Phoenix in 2014.
The next steps taken by the VA will be critical.
CVA Senior Advisor Darin Selnick wrote in USA Today that the first step should be meaningful wait-time reporting based on VA MISSION Act metrics. “Only then will we know how bad the situation is,” Selnick wrote. The follow-up step should be tracking every veteran who gets appointments at the VA or in the community in line with the most updated access standards.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough must get a handle on this situation brewing at the VA so more veterans don’t needlessly suffer the consequences of VA mismanagement.