VA Secretary: Veterans Waiting 60 Days or More for New Appointments at 30 Locations

By Melanie Arter | May 31, 2017 | 2:29pm EDT
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

( - Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday that while the VA has significantly improved access to care for veterans, there's still more work to be done with veterans waiting 60 days or more for new appointments at 30 of its locations nationwide.

The VA is providing same-day service in all of its medical centers with over 22 percent of veterans seen on a same day basis.

"We've done a significant job in improving access to care for clinically urgent veterans, so people with clinically urgent needs are now being addressed in a much more efficient way. We've developed same day services in every one of our 168 medical centers for primary care and mental health. In fact,  today over 22 percent of veterans are seen on a same-day basis," Shulkin said.

Furthermore, in an effort of transparency, the VA has posted its wait times for all to see - something no other health system has done.

"What we've done recently is we've posted our wait times for every single one of our medical centers across the country in a public forum for everybody to see what's good and what's not good in terms of wait times. There is no other health system in the country that has done anything like that, and there is no comparison to what the VA's doing in terms of transparency and wait times. Yet, veterans are waiting 60 days or more for new appointments in primary care and mental health at 30 of our locations nationwide. So we still have more to do,"  Shulkin said.

There's still work to be done in the area of community care, specifically with follow-up visits and paying providers.

"And while as I mentioned, we've done well with meeting the urgent needs of veterans, 10 percent of the time when a provider wants a follow-up appointment in a specific time frame, we're not meeting that provider's clinically assessed time for a veteran to come back, and that's something we have to address," Shulkin said.

"Sixteen percent of our primary care clinics are over 100 percent capacity. When that happens, we can't fully meet their needs in terms of access to care. 10 percent of our outpatient centers do not offer same-day service today. Now we are committing by the end of this year that all of our outpatient centers will offer same-day services and primary care mental health, but today 10 percent are not meeting that," he said.

"We have 500,000 community care providers … who participate in our network, but providers are increasingly frustrated with the VA's ability to get them payments to the point that some of them are actually leaving our network, and that's obviously working against us," Shulkin said.

"It takes more than 30 days to process 20 percent of our clean claims at VA, and that affects about 25,000 providers across the country. In addition, we have about $50 million in outpatient bill charges that are six months or older. As of April this year, only 65 percent of our claims are handled electronically," he said.

"That's far below what you'd find in the private sector, and so we need private sector help in order to find new solutions to get that number well above 65 percent, so we can have faster adjudication of payments to our community providers," Shulkin added.

In terms of quality of care, the VA identified 14 medical centers with 1 Star Ratings, meaning they are below the community standard of care.

To date, over 90,000 disability claims are taking more than 125 days to process. The goal is to cut this time in half over the next two years. The VA has initiated the Decision Ready Claims process to move toward a paperless process for claims to shorten the disability and appeals backlog process.

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