Veterans Affairs officials are overhauling their website detailing medical wait times at facilities across the country, but that won’t mean significant changes to private-sector care eligibility for patients worried about access issues.
The new site, which went live Tuesday afternoon, is the culmination of months of behind-the-scenes work in response to veterans’ complaints about deficiencies in the old offering.
VA has been publicly posting wait time estimates for the past eight years, with multiple modifications to the data directed by Congress in recent years.
Officials said the new site changes will make the information more user friendly, with information on waits for various specialties at sites displayed on a single page instead of across multiple links.
They also said sites have begun to calculate average wait items differently, to more accurately reflect delays that patients face in getting care. As a result, the new wait times listed for most sites are expected to increase as compared to the information posted just a few days ago.
But VA leaders in a background call with reporters said the wait times increases are not reflective of increased access problems at VA hospitals.
As a result, they do not expect more individuals to seek community care options based on the new numbers, since specific patient eligibility is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Under current rules, veterans can apply to get private-sector health care if they face significant waits (20 days for primary care, 28 days for specialty care) or travel (30-minute average drive time for primary care, 60 minutes for specialty care) to receive care at a VA medical site.
Calculations for that eligibility are separate from the average wait time data posted online, officials said. Individuals who are interested in private-sector care will still be required to work through VA administrators to check if they qualify.
VA’s Community Care program has been a target of controversy in recent years, with Republican lawmakers lamenting bureaucratic barriers for patients looking to schedule outside medical visits and Democrats warning that shifting too much care outside of veterans hospitals will undermine the VA system.
The website changes also include updated contact numbers for VA facilities and additional information on patient satisfaction.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.