- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday at the lack of answers from a panel of senior Veterans Affairs officials on specific plans to address the “silver tsunami” of aging U.S. veterans set to enter the agency’s health system in the coming decade.

Over the next decade, the VA is expecting a 46 percent increase in the number of veterans aged 75 and older enrolling in VA health care. Of the more than 9 million veterans currently enrolled in the VA health care system, half are already 65 and older. The VA estimates spending on health care fore elderly veterans health needs is expected to double in the next two decades.

Despite reports that a blueprint for handling the coming crush was in the works, VA officials declined to speak of any specifics of the strategic plan during a Tuesday hearing before the House Veterans Affairs health subcommittee.

“The timing of this hearing was poor,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Julia Brownley, California Democrat, cautioning that the VA will have essentially one chance to get it right as a large generation of military veterans ages.

Ms. Brownley expressed concern that the prepared statements from the VA panel failed to even mention the upcoming release of the Elder Care Strategic Plan. As specifics of the plan remain vague, committee members are becoming impatient with the lack of information.

As modern medicine lengthens the life expectancy of the elderly, the VA is bracing for a surge in population of older veterans seeking medical care, amid doubts over the VA’s capacity to handle a population increase. In response, the VA promised to release a strategic plan later this month addressing growing doubts over their ability to handle a surplus in veteran population.

A February report from the Government Accountability Office suggested the VA is unprepared to address a population increase due to staffing shortages and a geographical misalignment of care. The GAO found an absence in VA health centers in places where veteran populations are dense, causing many senior veterans to rely heavily on their families to care for them later in life.

GAO Managing Director of Health Care Nikki Clowers told the panel Tuesday that the VA has acknowledged these issues but has yet to produce measurable solutions.

“In recent years, stakeholders have largely focused on community care and caregiver programs,” Ms. Brownley said. “While these are essential areas for VA to get right, the scale of the silver tsunami is something the VA cannot afford to get wrong.”

Ms. Brownley also voiced concerns about the VA’s reliance on traditional, facility-based health options, while at-home care options are cost-effective and often more convenient for veterans.

Dr. Theresa Boyd, assistant deputy undersecretary for health at the VA, assured the committee that plans were in the works to “shift focus from institutional care” and “plus-up” VA resources for at-home services.

Ms. Boyd briefly addressed a pilot program completed by the VA known as the “Choose Home” initiative, which enabled veterans to receive the support they needed from the comfort of their homes. Ms. Boyd said the results of the pilot program would “figure heavily” into the Elder Care Strategic Plan.

“We sincerely believe we have an opening to turn this silver tsunami into a golden opportunity,” Ms. Boyd said.

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