The approximately 380,000 Veterans Health Administration employees, one-third of whom are veterans, come to work every day with one goal in mind: to serve veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors, as well as have served our country. President has called this a sacred obligation and there is no higher mission.
For us, veterans are our mission.
Our employees demonstrate daily that we will meet any challenge and do everything possible, even during the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, to ensure that veterans receive the care and services they have earned and deserve.
As we strive to lead the pandemic and beyond, we want veterans to know that our sacred obligation to you includes ensuring your access to quality health care, whether in a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facility. ), virtually or in the community.
The Integrated External Network Strengthening and Internal Systems Maintenance Act of 2018, commonly known as the MISSION Act, established criteria as part of the new Community Care Program for Veterans that allows eligible veterans to receive care from health care providers who do not belong to the VHA. Over the past few years, the total volume and percentage of VHA Community Care has increased. In total, since the MISSION Law was approved, more than 3 million Veterans have been authorized for at least one appointment in the community, and in fiscal year 2021 about 33 million community care appointments were completed for veterans. These are the facts.
VHA’s guidance is clear: Veterans should always be informed about their care options and should not be prevented from seeking care in the community. This is not just the law; making sure veterans have the option of community care is the right thing to do. VHA is constantly striving to increase options for care through VHA facilities, through telehealth, and in the community, including in rural and underserved areas.
The pandemic forced health care systems across the country to make tough decisions. No healthcare facility wants to be in a position to have to cancel patient appointments for routine care, but VHA had an ethical responsibility to put patient safety first, and our focus has remained on the safety of veterans who they trust us with their attention at all times. the pandemic. Like the private sector, VA also saw veterans decide to defer care due to pandemic concerns. Dating cancellations have been amplified by VHA critical groups, but this is only a small part of what is actually an inspiring story. VHA undertook a comprehensive effort to reach veterans whose appointments were canceled to ensure necessary care was provided. Our employees worked tirelessly to ensure veterans received care, putting off time off and retirement out of their own sense of dedication. TO recent study by The Lancet Regional Health found that these employees were successful and that VHA’s strategy likely saved the lives of veterans.
Due to this employee dedication, VHA’s outpatient care was only reduced by 8 percent in fiscal 2020, compared to an estimated 31 percent drop in the private sector. This is because we acted quickly to switch to telehealth and did more outreach than ever, specifically to ensure the needs of veterans were met. In fiscal 2021, VHA provided the largest amount of outpatient care in our history, with more than 78 million health care visits – surpassing the previous record of 74.2 million set before the pandemic in fiscal year 2019.
If you are a veteran, it is important for you to know that VA exists to support you and that the people who work at VHA are there to make your journey easier, not more difficult. We are deeply proud of the work we do for you. We know there will be times when we miss the mark, and when we do, we will do it and fix it because that is what veterans deserve.
VHA continues to receive and comply with Freedom of Information Act requests to provide data associated with community care access and appointments, only to see information selectively used to support the false claim that VHA is not following the MISSION Act . When others suggest that the VA is not fully complying with the MISSION Act, veterans are being misled. As a VHA leader and physician, I cannot express how deeply this concerns me. False narratives can negatively impact the willingness of some veterans to seek the care they need.
TO data release November 19, 2021 includes the total number of scheduled appointments, completed appointments, community care authorizations, and appointments canceled by the VHA provider or patient, as well as the percentage of patients seen within and outside of the time access standards. Standby.
This data only represents one part of the healthcare process. It does not show if canceled appointments were switched to virtual care or when they were rescheduled. And it doesn’t show how satisfied veterans are using HAV for their health care.
HAV data points since last fiscal year they offer a more complete view of access to care in VA: a record number of clinical care visits within VHA health care facilities, more mental health care provided than ever, nearly half of all veterans using VHA for health care authorized to use community care, significant increases in rural veterans’ access to virtual care, urgent referrals to a specialist completed in less than two days, either within a VHA facility or in the community, and veteran confidence scores that exceed 90 percent.
Millions of eligible veterans are being referred to community care under the Criteria of the MISSION Law, one of which is the appointment waiting time. It is important for veterans to know that individual eligibility for community care is determined when they request that an appointment be scheduled; it is never based on reported national or facility averages.
We know we have work to do, including some challenges in scheduling appointments with community care providers in a timely manner, and to address this, VHA is working to create a more seamless process of providing care for the veteran, informed by the views of the veterans. This exemplifies our commitment to ensuring that veterans receive care consistently at the right time and in the way they want it.
We are proud of all the doctors, nurses, and other VHA employees who took extraordinary steps to care for patients during the height of the pandemic and continue to do so today as we work to ensure that our patients return for routine and preventive services. We want veterans to know that we are open. If you need care, we will make sure you get it. We remain ready to serve you with the commitment, dedication and excellence you should expect from VHA.
Dr. Steven L. Lieberman is Acting Assistant Secretary for Health in the US Department of Veterans Affairs.