- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2018

Many patients using the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Choice” program to avoid long waits at government medical centers still face delays of two months or longer before seeing a doctor, the Government Accountability Office reported Monday.

Veterans in the private-care Choice program can face waits of up to 70 days to receive care, the researchers found after looking at a wide sampling of cases from 2016.

“Timeliness of appointments is an essential component of quality health care,” the report stated. “Delays in care have been shown to negatively affect patients’ morbidity, mortality, and quality of life… VA lacks assurance that veterans are receiving care from community providers in a timely manner.”

The review looked at 196 cases around the nation in which veterans were authorized for appointments with private healthcare providers including 55 for routine care, 53 for urgent care, and 88 that were returned without scheduling appointments.

GAO said the VA “cannot systematically monitor the timeliness of veterans’ access to Choice Program care because it lacks complete, reliable data to do so.”

The findings come as President Trump prepares to sign into law Wednesday a $52 billion veterans measure that overhauls VA programs and services. The GAO report said fixes to community care programs won’t shorten wait times unless the agency improves its oversight of appointments outside the VA system.

“Ignoring these lessons learned and the challenges that have arisen under the Choice Program as (VA officials) design the future consolidated program would only increase VA’s risk for not being able to ensure that all veterans will receive timely access to care in the community,” their report stated.

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