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Specialty care wait times for vets questioned by GAO

A new Government Accountability Office document focuses on community care appointments outside of the VA system. In one case, the wait was 130 to 180 days.

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) operates the largest healthcare delivery system in the United States, providing treatment to 6.4 million patients in the fiscal year 2021.

But, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises disturbing questions about the nation's military heroes' ability to get timely access to the medical care that they need.

When those vets need referrals to go outside the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department system to get specialty care like mental health, physical therapy or cardiology from community providers, it's important it gets delivered quickly. 

"Timely access to care for veterans is incredibly important. It's part of providing high-quality care to veterans," said Sharon Silas, a director in the GAO's Health Care team.

According to the GAO report -- which was written by Silas -- during the third quarter of 2022, less than 40% of VA medical facilities scheduled more than half of their specialty community care appointments within the appointment scheduling standard of seven days.

The report stated the VA is fighting "longstanding challenges" when it comes to scheduling specialty care appointments for patients, and at one of the surveyed VA medical centers, the wait time for community care neurology appointments was 130 to 180 days.

Silas said the VA needs to do a comprehensive analysis to establish achievable wait time standards.

"So that everyone is really clear on, like, how long it's going to take for a veteran to receive care in the community," she said.

The GAO is making three recommendations, including that the VHA conduct an analysis of scheduling timeliness data from all VA medical centers and require training. The VA concurred with the recommendations and identified steps it would take to implement them.

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