House Democrats on Wednesday voted against a Republican demand for information related to how long veterans are waiting for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, as complaints about lengthy delays at VA continue to pile up.
Republicans brought up a ‘resolution of inquiry’ from Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., at the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday. That resolution instructed VA to provide every document and file it has on how long veterans are waiting for care and reflects complaints that VA is not publishing accurate wait times.
But Democrats still hold a majority on the committee in this lame-duck session of Congress and voted to report it unfavorably to the floor, effectively killing it.
Unacceptably long wait times at VA — in addition to efforts at VA to cover up those wait times — is what finally prompted Congress to pass the Mission Act in 2018. When the law took effect under President Trump, it allowed millions of veterans to seek care outside the VA system for several reasons, including long wait times at VA.
But Republicans and outside experts have accused the Biden administration’s VA of massaging wait-time data in order to make it appear as if appointments are being scheduled quickly when, in reality, it’s taking much longer.
For example, VA regulations say veterans should be able to access private sector care if they face waits of longer than 20 days for primary care and 28 days for specialty care. VA is starting the clock not when a veteran first seeks an appointment, but after a VA ‘scheduler’ begins the work of setting up an appointment, which sometimes happens weeks after a veteran first seeks care.
During committee debate on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., said the VA continues to use this flawed process to create the appearance of shorter VA wait times and thus make veterans ineligible for private sector care, also known as ‘community care.’
‘A closer look reveals that some VA facilities have months-long wait times for new patients or existing patients seeking specific care,’ Bost said. ‘Long wait times at VA medical centers and delays in accessing care [in the] community are unacceptable.’
‘VA’s past and current wait time measurements are flawed, inaccurate, and deceptive – they do not follow the VA Mission Act law and the Veterans Community Care Program regulation,’ said Darin Selnick, a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America and former top adviser to VA Secretaries David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie, added in comments to Fox News Digital.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who chairs the House committee, dismissed these fears and said it would be too much work for VA to explain to Congress how wait times are calculated.
‘This resolution really would present an unduly burdensome and pointless paperwork exercise for VA and will ultimately reveal nothing that is not already known about VA’s wait time calculations,’ Takano said.
The House resolution is the latest Republican attempt to force VA to explain how it is calculating wait times and how it is implementing the Mission Act. In a Senate hearing in September, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told VA Secretary Denis McDonough that efforts to massage wait-time data are ‘unacceptable,’ but McDonough declined to say VA would end this practice and offered only vague assurances that this problem might be addressed.
‘We’re working through our workflows on that, and we will get those right,’ McDonough said at the time.
Another GOP senator, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said VA has blocked his effort to learn more about how easy or difficult it is for veterans to qualify for care outside the VA system. He said VA told his office to file a Freedom of Information Act request for that information.
VA has given several indications that it opposes veterans using the Mission Act to get private care and prefers to keep veterans inside the VA system. Last year, VA took down a link that directed veterans to information on how to use the Mission Act.
Over the summer, VA openly admitted it’s worried about too many veterans getting care outside VA. McDonough said in June one-third of veterans were using the MISSION Act, which he said was a ‘high number.’
And in July, a senior VA official told the House that if the ‘balance of care’ keeps skewing to the private sector, some VA facilities might not have ‘sufficient workload to operate in their current capacity.’