More U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
staffers should be seeing patients rather than handling administrative tasks, lawmakers said during a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. And at least one Congressman raised a concern that as the VA attempts to alleviate the wait list issue among veterans, it is neglecting vets in other ways.
“The 'all-in' focus on the backlog is starting to come at the cost of increased delays for other benefits,” Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said at the hearing. The Congressman's office did not provide further details on exactly what issues he sees.
Committee members advocated outsourcing administrative tasks, such as compensation and pension exams required when a veteran seeks money from the VA because of a disability. Nearly 8,200 VA staffers made up of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and psychologists now perform the assessments.
“Transferring some or all of the VHA C&P staff to treatment jobs would significantly increase the number of appointments available to veterans,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the committee, said during the hearing.
Some exams already are performed outside the VA. The agency has resisted more such outsourcing in the past, arguing such work in-house provides a better continuum of care for veterans. But during the hearing, three senior officials from the VA voiced no new opposition to relying more on contractors for C&P exams and said the agency is open to any idea that will help ensure more timely access to care for veterans.
In fiscal 2013, VA clinicians performed 2.1 million disability exams, with an additional 178,406 performed by contractors.
Two bills circulating Capitol Hill now from both the House and Senate would expand the outsourcing capability and both have some bipartisan support. However, the provision was not part of either main VA bill that both chambers are now working to combine to address wait list and systemic VA bureaucratic woes and it's unclear if they will attempt to add this language.Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson