Veterans seeking health care still tangled up in shoddy system

Reliable and timely medical treatment for the nation’s veterans remains elusive even as they are referred away from the Department of Veterans Affairs to private doctors.

According to The Arizona Republic, federal inspectors found that the delays in treatment and excessive costs that have become synonymous with the VA are also proving to be an issue when veterans seek private medical treatment.

The new report adds to a 15-month crisis of leadership and operations at the VA caused by revelations of delayed and inappropriate medical services, mismanagement, financial problems and other problems. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid controversy last year and interim Inspector General Richard Griffin retired under pressure this week.

The VA created the Patient-Centered Community Care program to prevent veterans from falling through the cracks caused by the bureaucracy. The program, called PC3, set up an infrastructure to get veterans private treatment when their local VA was overbooked or could not provide the necessary service.

But the problems persist in PC3:

  • VA contractors set up appointments for patients without first checking to see if the patient would actually be able to make it. That led to more than 40 percent of authorized doctor visits not ever happening, according to the story.

  • Patients haven’t been getting appointments quickly enough, according to program requirements.

  • The VA was not providing patients with the proper authorizations by the time they needed it for appointments with outside doctors.

  • There is a shortage of doctors within the two companies that the VA contracted with for a yearly cost of $9.5 billion.

[One of those contracted companies] TriWest, which serves veterans in Arizona, said in a prepared statement, "Many of the challenges noted within the report occurred within the infancy of the program and have been refined over the past year."

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or at hstockton@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalleStockton.