CLEVELAND—A top official for the nation's veterans health administration Friday said that the agency expects to offer same-day access to both primary care and mental health services at all VA medical centers by the end of the year.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will also use a smartphone appointment app to tackle its backlog of cases. The news came as a new report shows that VA officials falsified reports on wait times in seven states.
Dr. David Shulkin, the VA's undersecretary of health, introduced MyVA Access, a nine-point plan that would include expanding by next year an app that's been used in 10 pilot sites.
The VA currently offers same-day access at 34 of its 152 medical centers and 1,400 clinics. Shulkin told reporters at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference that there hasn't been enough recognition of the progress that the agency has made in improving access, including a "Stand Down" event in February in which more than 93% of patients on the agency's urgent care waitlist, about 80,000 veterans, were contacted to expedite their care and, in many cases, were offered earlier appointments.
The department's mammoth backlog of cases reached a high of 612,000 in 2013 before being reduced to 75,000 cases at the end of last year, thanks largely to the implementation of the automated Veterans Benefits Management System, which replaced a pen-and-paper approach for processing claims in 2012. But the VA's Office of Inspector General has cast doubt on those claims, alleging that the agency's field offices may have a data integrity problem.
"We have extreme efforts to make sure the data we're putting out is accurate, but it's not always easily understandable," Shulkin said of VA wait-time data. "In an effort to be as accurate as we can, we've made it complex only in the way a big government organization can."
The VA is working to make data more accessible and understandable by veterans, and in the coming months will be discussing the launch of a publicly available wait-time website, Shulkin said.
He added that, under the proposed VA Accountability Act, the department is lobbying Congress to allow VA medical center CEOs to be classified under the Title 38 Pay Schedule like VA clinicians, which would allow them to be compensated closer to market rates. In some cases, VA CEO salaries are two-thirds lower than their private-sector counterparts, he said, adding that department needs to be more competitive to attract strong talent.