According to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of veterans who have to wait a month or longer for services in VA hospitals has grown by nearly 50 percent over the last year. As of June, over seven percent of patients at VA hospitals had to wait a month or longer to receive medical care.
Additionally, the federal agency faces a $3 billion budget shortfall this year.
Last summer, the VA became embroiled in a massive scandal regarding wait times for veterans. Over 120,000 patients were forced to wait a month or longer for necessary medical care. Some never received the care they were promised.
According to congressional investigations, the wait times and poor quality of care contributed to the deaths of at least 40 veterans who sought care at VA hospitals.
Whistleblowers who previously worked within the VA system told Congress that officials within the agency had deliberately misrepresented the number of deaths related to the wait times in an internal VA audit to protect themselves during the investigation.
Both Congress and the White House demanded changes be made to the VA system.
“There need to be management changes in terms of … the procedures the VA has in place to fulfill their responsibilities,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Congress also gave the VA a $5 billion funding increase, specifically to address growing problems with wait times.
However, over the last year, it seems as though few changes have been made.
“Something’s got to give,” VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said. “We can’t leave this at the status quo. We are not meeting the needs of veterans, and veterans are signaling to us by coming in for additional care, and we can’t deliver as timely as we want to.”
Increased demand and low capacity both contribute to the long wait times.
An intense internal debate has been raging at the VA over a proposal to administer a more effective, but more expensive, hepatitis C treatment. Some in the agency’s leadership believe they have to ration the treatment to save funds; they do not want to administer it to veterans who are in a “permanent vegetative state” or suffering dementia.
Congress will decide this week about certain funding procedures that may allow the VA to shift funds into programs running low on money.
One program from which the VA may remove funds is intended to allow veterans on waiting lists to receive care from local, private sector doctors at taxpayers’ expense.