The Veterans Administration healthcare system is at a crossroads. After the recent revelations about long wait times for veterans and systematic cover-ups, it is clear that reforms in the Veterans Health System are needed.
On June 11, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced it has opened a criminal investigation of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The investigation stems from allegations that officials with the VA have been manipulating medical waiting lists and delaying care for thousands of veterans. On the same day, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would allow veterans who experience long delays for appointments or live far away from a VA facility to get care at nearby private hospitals and medical facilities. In addition the bill would provide money for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses. According to Modern Healthcare, it is believed a compromise version of the bill will soon make its way to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.
What few people understand is that any false statement of any kind made to a federal official is a crime under the United States code.
The Alleged Scandal that Rocked the U.S.
Last month, it was revealed that a VA clinic in Phoenix was delaying treatment for veterans waiting to see a doctor. The clinic is accused of making official lists that showed patients were getting timely care, while covering up secret waiting lists showing it took much longer. As many as 40 military veterans may have died waiting for treatment. Due to these allegations the head of the VA stepped down. The investigation is being led by the FBI’s field office in Phoenix, the location of the primary focus of the allegations.
To read more on the FBI’s investigation, click here.
AMA Volunteers to Provide Help.
While waiting for a solution, the American Medical Association (AMA) states that it will seek the help of private sector physicians to provide health care for veterans still waiting for care. The AMA is proposing that state and local medical societies formulate registries of physicians who are ready and willing to provide care for veterans, according to an AMA press release.
What This Means for Private Sector Health Providers.
Few would disagree that the VA needs help. Specifically, the VA needs to improve access to care for the growing numbers of new veterans joining the system. However, there is a bigger issue regarding whether the VA has even been given proper resources to do its job.
Until a permanent resolution is agreed upon, private sector healthcare providers that take military insurance such as TRICARE can expect to see an influx of VA patients. Note, there may be a delay in receiving reimbursement payments. There are also concerns as to how long it would take a private healthcare provider to obtain the medical records of a patient from the VA for follow up treatment. The shortage of VA administrative staff affects this, as well.
When seeing VA patients, keep in mind, the logistics of care are different in the private sector. VA patients will not be used to having labs, x-ray centers, pharmacies, etc., in different places and transportation may be more difficult. Providers should be aware of these challenges and have policies and procedures in place to ensure their veteran patients receive complete care. Having an open line of communications with these patients about their care will be essential.
The VA Needs More Resources, Congress!
The most important issue is that the VA needs more resources. It needs more physicians. It needs more ancillary health care professionals. It needs more administrative staff. It’s all good and fine for Congressional members to weep and gnash their teeth about VA shortcomings and failures. But Congress needs to put up the money the VA actually needs to provide the amount of care our existing veterans need.
Until Congress gets off the dime and funds the VA properly this type of situation, or worse, is bound to happen over and over. Republican governors can make idle threats against the VA, posturing for re-election. Congressmen and Senators can kowtow to Tea Party dogma. But if they aren’t going to fund the VA properly, it’s Congress’s fault and no one else’s.
What do you think about the VA scandal? As a private sector healthcare provider, do you think you will see more VA patients in your office? Please leave thoughtful comments below.
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Kahn, Randi. “AMA Encourages the Federal Government to Utilize Private Sector Physicians to Help Solve VA Crisis.” American Medical Association. (June 10, 2014). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2014/2014-06-10-private-sector-physicians-va-crisis.page
Kizer, Kenneth and Jha, Ashish. “Restorying Trust in VA Health Care.” New England Journal of Medicine. (June 11, 2014). From: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1406852
The New York Times. “F.B.I. Begins Criminal Inquiry in V.A. Scandal.” The New York Times. (June 11, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/UwTXow
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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