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Author: TriSec    Date: 03/07/2017 11:01:33

Good Morning.

Got a few things going on today, perhaps linked, perhaps not.


We'll start today in Virginia and North Carolina. It's come out recently that VA centers in those states have been inaccurately reporting wait times for certain appointments. While we all have to wait for an appointment sometimes, it's important for veterans - if their local VA can't provide timely services, they are then entitled to go to the private sector for the same care if it can be provided quicker. But without accurate data, they cannot do so.


WASHINGTON — A review of a dozen Veterans Affairs medical facilities in North Carolina and Virginia identified widespread inaccuracies that vastly understated veteran wait times for appointments last year, leading the VA inspector general to conclude that VA scheduling data is still unreliable and a “high-risk” area for the agency.

The miscalculations, outlined in an inspector general report issued Thursday, masked actual demand for care and precluded veterans from getting private sector treatment, which they are supposed to be able to get if they have to wait longer than a month for a VA appointment.

The inspector general looked at primary and mental health care appointments for new patients and referrals for specialists and found that overall, 36% had to wait longer than a month for an appointment, but the VA scheduling system said only 10% had waited that long.

The report estimated that as many as 13,800 veterans should have been able to get VA-sponsored care in the private sector because of their long waits, but the VA never added them to lists authorizing them to receive outside care under the so-called Choice program.

VA staffers entered the wrong dates in the scheduling system in some cases and didn’t follow up on appointment requests in a timely way in others. In a few cases, medical center directors or other supervisory staff disagreed with national guidelines designed to ensure veterans see specialists within a time frame dictated by their referring doctor. So they just didn’t require staff to follow them.

The inspector general also reviewed records of veteran patients who were added to Choice lists and managed to get appointments outside the VA. Auditors found that 82% of them waited longer than 30 days, and on average, they waited nearly three months.


Because the stories came out within a few days of each other, they could possibly be linked in my mind - but thus far I'm the only one making the connection here. A veteran in Durham, NC killed himself in a VA parking garage, apparently because he spent the last two years attempting to get full disability - which was recently denied by the VA. But perhaps the bigger scandal is that he wasn't found for six days.


DURHAM, N.C. — Paul Shuping, a 63-year-old Navy veteran, parked his car at the Durham VA Medical Center on Feb. 15 and then used an old family .22-caliber rifle to end his life.

Shuping, who is among the estimated 20 veterans who commit suicide each day in the U.S., wasn't discovered dead in the parking garage for six days.

"I was devastated. We were all devastated when we heard what happened," said Dr. Terry Morris, who became friends with Shuping after her nonprofit, Vets to Vets, matched him with service dogs. "He seemed like he was thriving, and certain events happened recently that kind of took him in a downward spiral."

James Alston of the Triangle Veterans Outreach Center helped guide Shuping through the red tape at the Department of Veterans Affairs for partial disability benefits, which took two years to obtain. The VA's recent decision to deny Shuping full benefits set him off, Alston said.

"His biggest concern when he came in was financial," he said, adding that he thinks Shuping picked the VA hospital's parking garage for his final act for a reason.

"I really think he was trying to send a message for all veterans who are crying out for help," he said.

Donald Shuping said he also believes the VA's benefits process played a role in his brother's suicide, but he doesn't blame the Durham VA hospital.

"To the VA's benefit, I think he received excellent care," Donald Shuping said.

Sharonda Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Durham VA, didn't discuss why the hospital's police officers didn't discover Paul Shuping earlier, saying only that he found inside his car "during one of our many daily patrols."

"The loss of one veteran by suicide is one loss too many," Pearson said in a statement. "This veteran volunteered many hours to our animal therapy program and was well known and beloved by Durham VA staff."


You could maybe make a claim that the new administration has actually taken notice of some things. The new VA Secretary recently had a press conference of sorts, and he's been promising that "The President demands major changes". What changes he's demanding aren't clear, because none of it has actually been articulated.


WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Friday promised major changes were coming to the agency, saying President Donald Trump expects it.

“We’re going to be looking for some major changes, to really reevaluate how we do things,” Shulkin said during a live, online question-and-answer podcast with veterans. “If you look at the president’s 10-point plan, he’s not looking for minor changes. The reason why I feel I got a 100-0 [confirmation] vote from the Senate is because there’s one thing the country agrees on -- that our vets deserve better than what they’re getting now.”

However, he did not offer veterans specifics about how he would change the department, only calling it a “modernizing of our system.”

Part of the change will include the Veterans Choice Program, which Shulkin said he wanted to “redesign” this year.

The program allows some veterans to receive care in the private sector with the VA paying the bill, but many veterans have criticized it as complex and confusing.

The Veterans Choice Program is set to expire in August. Shulkin said Friday he’s working with Trump and lawmakers to propose changes to the program, though no details were offered.

He’s previously deflected claims of “privatization.”

In Trump’s 10-point plan for VA reform, which was introduced during his campaign, the president said he wanted to allow all veterans the option to seek care in the private sector. Some veterans organizations have voiced concerns and contend paying more for veterans to seek outside care could diminish resources at VA facilities.

Scott Blackburn, who was named Friday as Shulkin’s acting deputy secretary, said the VA would “buckle down” and “get more disciplined.” Blackburn previously led former VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s VA transformation initiative, “MyVA.”

“The president wants to do some really big things,” Blackburn said Friday. “We still have a long way to go.”


I'm sure it's going to be great.



 

35 comments (Latest Comment: 03/08/2017 00:23:08 by BobR)
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