Backstory Leading to The Mission Act
A report from August 2014 brought to light a huge, heartbreaking issue that many veterans, and veteran advocates already knew…long wait times at VA care facilities were causing prolonged suffering for many veterans, and possibly contributed to death for some. Another shocking revelation of the report was that certain VA hospitals and care facilities kept up secret “wait lists” to decrease the “official time” the system showed a veteran waiting for a procedure, surgery, or care visit.
Sources from within some of these hospitals and facilities spoke out about the path to things being where they were. They claimed with surging numbers of veterans in the system, staff and medical professionals became overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed. This caused many to leave the VA health care system in pursuit of other jobs, which in turn meant more stress on remaining staff and medical professionals.
Pressure to adhere to VA care guidelines with an already understaffed, stressed team seemed to be one driving force behind falsifying medical records. The falsifications included showing that veterans were waiting for a procedure within the time frame required by the VA, when in reality the veteran was waiting for months longer. Several doctors in the system spoke out about bonuses, promotions and rewards being given to those VA care administrators and facilities who showed shortened waiting time, which was also a possible reason they falsified records.
Investigations and reports
CNN had been investigating and reporting on veteran death and VA health care delays across the country for almost a year at this point. Dr. Sam Foote, a doctor from the Phoenix VA system, testified before Congress in 2014. “In my opinion, this was a conspiracy, possibly criminal, perpetrated by senior Phoenix leaders,” Foote said in his prepared testimony. “The Inspector General tries to minimize the damage done and the culpability of those involved by stating that none of the deaths can conclusively be tied to treatment delays.”
In a report released by CNN in 2013, veteran patients at Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina were waiting up to a year, sometimes longer, for routine gastrointestinal procedures. Of the 280 reviewed patients, at least 52 had worsening of their condition and complications that were directly related to the delay in care and lack of early detection. With this report, the VA did confirm that 6 deaths were the possible result of this delay in care and early detection, but investigators for CNN reported the number to be closer to 20.
VA Mission Act of 2018
Fast forward a few years later. In June of 2018, President Trump signed the VA Mission Act of 2018. In a nutshell, the goal of the Mission Act was to help veterans with getting the best and most timely care possible, and to support veteran care providers so they could provide better care. The Mission Act also tasked the VA with rolling out changes to a new Veteran Community Care Program by June 2019. There were many steps to take and goals to implement for the Community Care Program (click here to see them all), but it was all supposed to allow more resources and support for providers, and health care ease, access, choice, and coverage for veterans.
Theoretically, the Mission Act was a great step forward in veteran, and veteran care, advocacy. But while it sounds simple overall, there has been a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, push back, and possibly even lawbreaking, related to the Mission Act. Practically speaking, this means many veterans are still having to face long waits to be seen for afflictions and ailments. Getting approved and covered care that is outside of the VA system is still proving tricky, 3 years after the signing of this Act, and 2 years after its implementation.
Be sure to read next week’s blog post, part 2 of the VA Mission Act of 2018.
Visit these sources to read more on the reports and information on the Mission Act.
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