The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

July 7, 2014

Toomey: VA needs to be more accountable

— WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has reached out to nearly 140,000 veterans in the past two months to get them off waiting lists and into clinics for medical appointments.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson revealed the number Thursday as the VA released new audit figures showing improved patient access at 731 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.

The announcement followed a national outcry over reports of patient deaths and treatment delays at VA facilities.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, in Sunbury recently for a meeting with local businesswomen, said: “It seems to me that there has been serious mismanagement. I’m hoping that the new VA secretary will be able to turn things around, but it’s not going to happen overnight. My view is that there has to be greater accountability.”

Toomey lamented the fact that it’s almost impossible to fire a senior bureaucrat. “It almost doesn’t matter what they’ve done, you can’t fire them in Washington, and that’s ridiculous,” he said.

Some of the things that have happened probably are criminal, certainly unethical, he said. “When you’re lying about waiting times so that you can get a bonus and meanwhile veterans aren’t getting the care that they need, that’s outrageous. There needs to be accountability. There are a number of ways we can enhance accountability and we should,” the senator said.

But Toomey also wants something done about veterans who need help but live far away from VA facilities. “We also ought to know what kind of outcomes we’re getting at the various VA medical facilities,” he said. “Not all VA facilities are equal. Some perform extremely well, some only in certain areas, some aren’t so great. And veterans should know that. So I want to have more disclosure and more opportunity for veterans to be able to go somewhere else, to a non-VA facility. Maybe it would be better for some people around here to go to Geisinger rather than to a VA facility. Certainly, if they live very far away and are on a waiting list, why can’t they go to an alternative place where they can get the care that they deserve? And have the government pay for it at Medicare rates.”

As of June 15, about 46,000 veterans had waited at least 90 days for their first VA medical appointments, the agency said. That’s down from 57,000 who waited more than 90 days as of May 15.

An additional 7,000 veterans had never gotten an appointment for VA care, despite seeking one over the past decade, the VA said. That’s down from about 64,000 veterans who did not get appointments as of May 15.

Despite the improvements, veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care, officials said.

The audit of patient access information is the third released by the VA in the past month as the agency seeks to address systemic challenges in providing care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans. Audits of 731 VA hospitals and clinics also were released June 9 and 19.

“There is more work to be done,” Gibson said Thursday. “We must restore the public’s trust in VA, but more importantly, we must restore the trust of our veterans who depend on us for care.”

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