In 2014, the Phoenix VA Medical center caught the attention of the nation as it was discovered the hospital manipulated wait times, resulting in several veterans dying while waiting for care. Findings by a new VA Inspector General report allege the VA healthcare system in Southern Arizona has wait times that are worse than the national average, coupled with quality of care issues. If these findings are validated, it will serve as yet another reminder that VA care throughout Arizona still needs serious improvement.
The 2014 waitlist scandal in Phoenix resulted in outrage and sparked investigations across the country that found this problem was not exclusive to the Phoenix VA. Although the Inspector General’s allegations aren’t as shocking as the information uncovered at the Phoenix VA, they are still extremely troubling.
The Inspector General found the number of primary care appointments taking more than 30 days to schedule increased from 2015 through 2016 and two endoscopes were contaminated and “inappropriately reused in two incidents.”
On top of this, the VA’s own data shows both the Bob Stump VA Medical Center, located in Prescott, AZ, and the Northern Arizona Health Care System have higher percentages of appointments scheduled over 30 days than the VA national average. Even after the national scrutiny, the Phoenix VA still has worse wait times than the national average – over 9% of wait times at the Phoenix VA are scheduled over 30 days. Additionally, the Phoenix VA’s overall hospital facility rating is 15 points below the national average and has several quality of care issues that are worse than the national average
The Inspector General and the VA’s own data underscore the need for greater health care choice for veterans who use the VA. For the VA to truly change and offer the quality care that veterans need, Congress should offer real solutions that put the veteran in control of their own health care decisions.
Programs that keep the VA as the middleman will continue to let veterans down. The Veterans Choice Program is a perfect example of how a well-intentioned program can fail to fix the problems facing the VA. The Choice Program was only intended to be a temporary solution and created more red tape and bureaucracy for veterans to go through. Despite an emergency funding increase, the program is expected to run out of money for the second time this year in December.
Congress needs to rectify these issues once and for all by passing bold reform that will improve how the VA delivers health care to our veterans. Putting the veteran at the center of their health care decisions will give veterans the care we promised them – and the care they deserve.