Committee Looks at VA Patient Wait Times

Mar 14, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) policies on scheduling and measuring patient wait times. The Subcommittee reviewed work conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifying inconsistencies in patient wait times reported by the VA, including unreliable information and varying degrees of policy implementation. The hearing also reviewed VA’s metrics for reporting such information.

“Unfortunately, many of the issues examined at the hearing are not new. Health problems can be made worse if a veteran can’t get the care they need when they need it. It’s really that simple and serious,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01). “I know our committee is committed to bringing the Veterans Health Administration’s scheduling processes into the 21st century. Doing so will require the elimination of the needless waits, unclear policies and procedures, and frustrating technology slowdowns. We need a system that works for veterans and lives up to the high quality service provided by the VA’s dedicated health care professionals across the country.”

In Fiscal Year 2011, there were more than 8 million veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) health system, and VHA provided nearly 80 million out-patient medical appointments to veterans for primary and specialty care. Long wait times and scheduling processes have been a long standing problem within the VHA, with the GAO reporting on the issue for over a decade.

In their December 2012 report, GAO found that VHA’s reported outpatient medical appointment wait times are unreliable. Earlier that year, in an April 2012 report, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found that VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care. In fact, VHA did not provide first-time patients timely access to mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointments. The VA is currently in the process of implementing the GAO report’s recommendations.