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As the ‘forever wars’ end, what will happen to veterans as they seek medical care?

American Veteran undergoing Physical Therapy

By Concerned Veterans for America

As the generation of post-9/11 war veterans seek care for unique health needs and challenges, it is imperative that the Department of Veterans Affairs is prepared to serve them.

But the department’s implementation of the VA MISSION Act and standards for accessing non-VA medical care has been discouraging.

Concerned Veterans for America Coalitions Director Jimmie T. Smith recently wrote in Florida Politics about reports of Florida VA facilities keeping veterans from accessing community care in accordance with the law:

The VA MISSION Act’s Community Care Program has an important role to play in ensuring timely, quality care. Community Care standards require veterans to be offered non-VA care if VA wait times are longer than 20 days for primary care or 28 days for specialty care. But investigations into compliance with the law in Florida are proving concerning.

Earlier this year, a series of investigative reports found the VA’s Bay Pines and James Haley Medical Centers are not accurately calculating wait times, using an outdated method to set appointment dates. That method may be keeping many who are eligible for community care from getting timely, needed treatment. In the Bay Pines VA network, only 8% of patients were offered community care in 2020.

Keeping veterans away from care in the community is dangerous for their physical and mental health. It’s also a violation of the VA MISSION Act. And it’s not just a Florida problem — it’s a problem across the country.

More veterans are coming home or are already home from the post-9/11 wars, with injuries and conditions that need timely attention. They can’t afford for the VA to put up bureaucratic barriers to their health care.

Smith provides some solutions for ensuring the VA is ready to serve these veterans:

First, the VA has to be transparent about its wait time data. Americans for Prosperity Foundation recently filed a lawsuit to require multiple VA facilities, including several in Florida, to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request to provide data on actual wait times at local facilities, whether VA is accurately calculating wait times, and if community care standards are being complied with.

Second, the VA MISSION Act needs to be properly implemented and fully complied with. That includes adhering to new access standards for community care and updating scheduling practices. Veterans can’t wait for treatment while bureaucratic red tape slows down the process.

You can read the rest of Smith’s piece in Florida Politics.