Veterans Affairs officials are emphasizing that physicians need to connect HIV-positive patients with long-term care programs as soon as possible after a new study indicated uncertainty over whether some veterans faced delays in those medical treatments due to slow reporting schedules.
The issue is important not just for the Veterans Health Administration but also the broader American medical community because the department is the largest single provider of medical care to HIV-infected patients in the nation. More than 31,000 veterans received care for the autoimmune disease last year.
But researchers from the Government Accountability Office found gaps in VA officials monitoring of when patients were confirmed to be HIV-positive and when they were linked to department treatment programs. That’s key to ensuring the health of both VA patients and the public.
The ruling deals a blow to Pentagon policies prohibiting the discharge of HIV-positive service members.
“Individuals who are diagnosed and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as an individual who does not have HIV,” the report stated. “And HIV treatment helps prevent transmission of the virus to, for example, a sexual partner.”
Under federal guidelines, the timeline between a positive diagnosis and the start of medical treatments should be within 30 days, but GAO officials found inconsistent records in past years as to whether department physicians were monitoring that wait time.
VA leaders said in response to the report that recent changes in department checks have improved the monitoring, and that 86 percent of veterans in 2019 newly diagnosed with HIV were connected to care within a month. Gaps in reporting have left unanswered questions about the remaining 14 percent.
The plan could help about 3,000 aging immigrants still suffering health problems connected to fighting about 50 years ago.
In a letter to GAO, VA Chief of Staff Pamela Powers said officials plan to discuss improvements to the current records systems and new efforts to highlight the importance of quick reporting of HIV-positive results to patients during the department’s upcoming quarterly health officials’ meetings.
Under VA policy, all veterans are offered one no-cost HIV test as part of their general medical benefits. In addition, veterans in high-risk groups — such as drug abusers or individuals with a known past exposure to HIV-positive individuals — are tested every three months for the disease.