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VA OKs more private care for veterans

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:37 a.m. HST, May 24, 2014

WASHINGTON >> The Obama administration said Saturday it will allow more veterans to obtain health care at private hospitals and clinics in an effort to improve their treatment.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki also said VA facilities are enhancing capacity of their clinics so veterans can get care sooner. In cases where officials cannot expand capacity at VA centers, the Department of Veterans Affairs is "increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," Shinseki said.

Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for this policy change as the VA confronts allegations about treatment delays and falsified records at VA centers nationwide.

The department's inspector general says 26 VA facilities are under investigation, including the Phoenix VA hospital, where a former clinic director says as many as 40 veterans may have died will awaiting treatment.

Officials also are investigating claims that VA employees have falsified appointment records to cover up delays in care.

The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the administration's management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with the influx of veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Vietnam veterans needing more care as they age.

The directive issued Saturday should make it easier for veterans to get medical care at non-VA facilities, according to an agency spokeswoman.

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics, spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said. That amounts to about 10 percent of health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration, the agency's health care arm.

It was not clear how much the new initiative would cost, Dillon said.

A spokesman for Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said Miller was pleased by Shinseki's announcement, but wondered why it took so long. Reports about the veterans at the Phoenix hospital surfaced more than a month ago.

Miller said in a statement Friday that Shinseki and President Barack Obama were engaged "in an endless discussion regarding allegations, investigations and unreliable internal VA reviews" while "overlooking VA's very real, very deadly and very well-documented delays in care problem."

Miller has pledged to introduce legislation that would give any veteran who is unable to obtain a VA appointment within 30 days of application the option to receive non-VA care at the department's expense.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called for the VA to allow more veterans to receive medical care at private hospitals. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this past week that she was open to the idea of medical care at private hospitals. She said it was unacceptable to have a backlog of patients waiting for permission to go to a federally qualified clinic.

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cojef wrote:
Sure would like to see, a cost analysis of administrative as opposed to actual medical care cost for veterans. One report indicated that 78/79% of employees are union members. Many employees are veterans and thus it is confusing why all the hang-up and delays.
on May 24,2014 | 02:13PM
pcman wrote:
Under Shinseki, many improvements occurred, but he lost control of them. For example, he started to pay people with questionable medical injuries, not occurring in combat but in normal duty. Examples are loss of hearing, sprains, dislocations, etc. Taking care of such problems is fine, but giving those vets a payment of $1000-2000 a month for life is excessive. That money could and should be used to pay for life and death injuries, illnesses and diseases obtained in combat zones.
on May 24,2014 | 03:54PM
false wrote:
The VA's Budget for 2014 is a whopping $160B. The VA is mis-managed /mis-led and has too much personnel and infrastructure costs. Their Office of Medical Inspection does little to improve VA's service to Veterans. Recommend the following improvements: 1) Maintain in-house VA medical services of those veterans with 50% or more service connected disability, 2) Privatize VA services for veterans with 50% or less disability by increasing non-VA hospital and clinic medical services and reduce VA staffing accordingly, 3) Offer to pay older Veterans their Medicare Part B and Medi-gap premiums to get medical care outside of VA quicker and better, 4) Review the service connected claims process and their inconsistent adjudication using a non-precedence policy on approving similar claims, 5) Review the costs of their army of VA lawyers/judges that unduly delay and deny veterans' service connected claims, 5) Review the process of the initial service connected claims being reviewed by non-medical personnel and their the thoroughness of their review and recommendations, 6) Improve the login VA website to make it easier to use for veterans processing and reviewing claims, and 7) Have veterans rate each hospital and clinic and publish the results annually (like Medicare) since there is no process in place other than to call some 800 number in cyberspace to complain with no action or follow-up done even by the top leadership, etc. Bottom line: Streamline the bloated VA through bottoms up process reviews, improve/replace existing leadership, and provide for published veterans' feedback on each VA hospital/clinic.
on May 25,2014 | 06:14AM
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