The Veterans Affairs Department has taken little to no action on more than 100 recommendations it has received to help improve the quality of healthcare it offers veterans, the Government Accountability Office said in a report (PDF) released late Wednesday. The recommendations, dating as far back as 2000, were made by the GAO.
The consequences of continuing non-action could be severe, the agency warned. “We have found that this ambiguity and inconsistency may pose risks for veterans' access to VA health care, or for the quality and safety of VA health care they receive,” the GAO stated.
The nature of the agency's suggestions range from fixing ambiguous policies and inconsistent processes to improving inadequate oversight and accountability, as well as addressing information technology challenges and insufficient training for VA staff and clarifying resource needs and allocation priorities.
Requests for comment from the VA were not immediately returned.
An example of how vague polices were hurting veterans was outlined in a December 2012 report which uncovered that unclear policies led VA facility staff to inaccurately record required appointment dates, and to inconsistently track new patients waiting for outpatient medical appointments at VA facilities.
“In some cases, we found that staff members were manipulating medical appointment dates to conform to VA's timeliness guidelines, which likely contributed further to the inaccuracy of VA's wait-times data for outpatient medical appointments,” the report said.
The VA came under scathing criticism about wait times last year, resulting in federal legislation.
The recently enacted Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act includes provisions to help the VA address many of the issues the GAO raised, the report noted. It gave the VA additional funds to pay private providers to treat vets who couldn't get an appointment within 30 days at VA hospitals or clinics, and to cover veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. It also authorized funds for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and for opening new clinics.
The GAO said its hopes Congress will continue conducting oversight hearings to make sure the bill is appropriately implemented.
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