by Tom Philpot, Military Update:
A report by the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general and a separate "access audit" of appointment scheduling practices across VA health care facilities confirm system-wide abuses to distort wait times for care, which have put patients at risk and shaken confidence in how VA hospitals and clinics are staffed, managed and resourced.
Yet even as the acting IG and another senior VA official confirmed the depth of the patient wait-time scandal at hearing Monday of the House veterans affairs committee, as well as possible criminal activity by some administrators, they cautioned irate lawmakers against sending thousands more VA patients into the private sector for health care needs.
The caution flags haven't slowed Congress. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed the Veterans Access to Care Act (HR 4810) from Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), VA committee chairman. It would require VA to offer non-VA care to enrolled veterans who cannot get an appointment within VA wait time goals or who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 93 to 3 for similar language as part of a more comprehensive bill, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (S 2450), from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), VA committee chairman, and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Veterans are right to worry that multiple schemes to address the VA's problems will all blend together into sticker shock or fast-fixes going nowhere. Much depends on the Secretary-Designate and his immediate mastery of budget issues and creation of an effective upper and middle-level management team.