House Democrats on Wednesday voted down a Republican request for information related to how long veterans wait for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, as complaints of long delays in Virginia continue to mount.
Republicans raised a “resolution of inquiry” from Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., in the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. That resolution instructs the VA to provide every document and file it has on how long veterans wait for care, and echoes complaints that the VA does not publish accurate wait times.
But Democrats still hold a majority on the committee in this crazy session of Congress and voted to report it unfavorably to the floor, effectively killing it.
Virginia’s unacceptably long wait times — in addition to Virginia’s efforts to cover up those wait times — is what finally pushed Congress to pass the MISSIONS Act of 2018. When the law took effect under President Trump, it allowed millions of veterans to seek care outside the VA system for several reasons, including long wait times at the VA.
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But Republicans and outside experts have accused the Biden administration’s VA of masquerading data on wait times to make it appear appointments are being scheduled quickly when, in fact, it is taking much longer.
For example, VA regulations state that veterans must access care in the private sector if they wait more than 20 days for primary care and 28 days for specialty care. The VA starts the clock not when a veteran first seeks an appointment, but after a VA “scheduler” begins the work of setting up an appointment, which sometimes happens weeks after the veteran first seeks medical care.
During a committee debate Wednesday, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., said the VA continues to use this flawed process to create the appearance of shorter VA wait times and thereby make veterans ineligible for private sector care, also known as “community care.”
“A closer look reveals that some VA facilities have months of wait time for new patients or existing patients seeking specific care,” Bost said. “Long Waits at Virginia Medical Centers and Delays in Access to Care [in the] community are unacceptable.”
“The VA’s past and current wait time measurements are flawed, inaccurate and deceptive – they do not follow the VA’s mission law and Veterans Community Care Program regulation,” said Darin Selnick, senior counsel for Concerned Veterans for America and former top adviser to VA Secretaries David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie added in comments to Fox News Digital.
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Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who chairs the House committee, dismissed those fears and said it would be too much work for the VA to explain to Congress how wait times are calculated.
“This resolution would indeed be an unduly burdensome and pointless paperwork for the VA, and would ultimately reveal nothing that is not already known about the VA’s wait time calculations,” Takano said.
The House resolution is the latest attempt by Republicans to force Virginia to explain how it calculates wait times and how it implements the MIS Act. During a Senate hearing in September, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told VA Secretary Dennis McDonough that efforts to massage wait time data were “unacceptable,” but McDonough declined to say the VA would discontinued this practice and offered only vague assurances that this problem could be resolved.
“We’re working on our workflows on this and we’re going to get them right,” McDonough said at the time.
Another GOP senator, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said the VA has blocked his efforts to learn more about how easy or difficult it is for veterans to qualify for care outside the VA system. He said the VA told his office to file a Freedom of Information Act request for that information.
The VA has given few indications that it opposes veterans using the MISSION Act to obtain private care and prefers to keep veterans within the VA system. Last year, the VA removed a link that directed veterans to information on how to use the MISSION Act.
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Over the summer, Virginia openly admitted it was concerned that too many veterans were receiving care outside of Virginia. McDonough said in June that one-third of veterans use the MISSION Act, which he said is a “large number.”
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And in July, a senior VA official told the House that if the “balance of care” continues to skew toward the private sector, some VA facilities may not have “sufficient workload to operate at their current capacity.”