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Could It Get Any Worse? VA Wait Times Up 50 Percent From Last Year

The Department of Veterans Affairs is still recovering from the scandal which erupted in 2014 over manipulated waitlists. A year later, the number of veterans waiting a month or more for appointments — is up by 50 percent.

Not only are wait times soaring out of control, but the department is posting a shortfall of $2.7 billion dollars, The New York Times reports.

Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson noted that an incredible number of patients have started booking appointments just as the VA has taken steps to increase capacity. Until the VA receives more funds from Congress, officials are considering a variety of cost-cutting measures to keep the department afloat, namely leaves of absence, hiring freezes and treatment rationing. New, incredibly expensive hepatitis C treatments are largely responsible for driving up medication costs by 17 percent from last year.

While officials work on outsourcing treatment for hepatitis C, observers have criticized the VA for adopting what they’re calling “death panels.” Since rationing is a necessity, patients with less than a year left are being skipped over for treatment, and the same applies to patients suffering from serious and permanent cognitive impairment.

“They’ve set up what I would call, in Sarah Palin’s words, ‘death panels.’ … Maybe rationalization panels is a better term,” Tom Berger, executive director of a health council created by Vietnam Veterans of America, told The Arizona Republic.

Ration plans have generated considerable controversy, even within a department struggling to keep up with general demand rising by as much as 20 percent at several major locations.

Another proposed alternative to survive in the interim is to drain funds from an account created for the VA’s Choice Card program, which Republicans pushed to give veterans the option of obtaining private care because of the department’s inability to reduce wait times.

Lawmakers remain perplexed as to why so few veterans have taken advantage of the program, but a survey conducted by Veterans of Foreign Wars of its members in March found that 43 percent didn’t even know the program existed. Many veterans who did inquire were turned away by a staff untrained in assessing eligibility. Only 19 percent of veterans who qualified were accepted. (RELATED: Report: VA Choice Program Keeps Out 80 Percent Of Eligible Veterans)

“Something has to give,” Gibson told The New York Times. “We can’t leave this as the status quo. We are not meeting the needs of veterans, and that veterans are signaling that to us by coming in for additional care, and we can’t deliver it as timely as we want to.”

Phoenix kicked off the waitlist scandals early last year and continues to be the epicenter for whistleblowers shedding light on understaffing in the emergency room. (RELATED: BREAKING: Phoenix VA Whistleblower Calls For Resignation Of Officials Amid ER Staffing Crisis)

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

 

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