MISSOULA, Mont. - A new federal report concludes billions of taxpayer dollars spent to overhaul the Veterans Health Administration didn’t solve the problem and, instead, may have made it worse.
The 308-page report was finished by the independent 15-member Commission on Care. Their bottom line -- there are profound problems that require “urgent reform.”
We’ve heard about those problems as we’ve talked to veterans around Montana for the last three months.
In Superior we met veteran Tony Lapinski two months ago. He has Veterans Choice. The program is used to help rural vets get in to see private doctors instead of driving miles for care at a VA clinic.
Trouble is, when we talked to him in May, Lapinski couldn’t get an appointment.
“My first call to the VA was July 8th of 2015,” Lapinski said. “When I first saw a VA doctor was on January 13th of 2016. That's a six-month wait between when I called and when I was able to step in the little clinic in Missoula.”
What he told us is echoed in the new report. Congress ordered the Commission on Care to follow up on billions of dollars of changes ordered after scandal rocked the VA.
In 2014 vets reported long wait times. Some veterans died before they got care.
Two years later the report finds there are still big problems.
On the list -- Veterans Choice. The report concludes the program has only “aggravated wait times and frustrated veterans.” So the commission offers a solution -- establish a VHA Care System made up of a network of VA, Defense Department and VA-approved private health care providers every enrolled veteran can access. Vets could choose from all primary care providers in the system but they would need a referral.
There’s more. Just last month, we told you how Veterans Choice and its administrator, HealthNet, weren’t paying bills.
On June 22 Donja Erdman, with Marcus Daly Hospital in Hamilton, said the hospital would “care for (veterans) one way or another. It’s just the funding mechanism that’s broken.”
It's broken to the tune of $2 million in unpaid bills at Hamilton’s Marcus Daly Hospital. The report recommends that be changed, that providers be paid using the most contemporary “payment systems used” like the one used by Medicare.
In all there are 18 recommendations. Now the question is will any of the changes be made in time to help vets like Lapinski get the help they need?