Column: Making sure our veterans get the care they deserve
WASHINGTON -- When we ask our servicemembers to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation, we make a commitment to give them the support they need when they come home. But too often, we fall short of that commitment, especially when it...
WASHINGTON -- When we ask our servicemembers to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation, we make a commitment to give them the support they need when they come home. But too often, we fall short of that commitment, especially when it comes to health care.
I spend a lot of time with veterans around our state. I hear over and over again that our veterans are waiting too long for appointments at Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Facilities. When our servicemembers signed up to serve there wasn’t a waiting line, and there shouldn’t be a waiting line at their medical facilities when they come home.
That’s why I joined with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and introduced legislation that would establish a patient self-scheduling appointment system at VA Medical Facilities. The Faster Care for Veterans Actwould introduce a pilot program which would allow veterans to use their mobile devices and the internet to self-schedule, modify and confirm outpatient and specialty care appointments.
When veterans cannot schedule the appointments they need in a timely manner, their lives may be at risk. A veteran who wants to schedule an appointment to check on their heart, but can’t because of long wait times, could be at a heightened risk for a heart attack. A veteran who needs to schedule an appointment to adjust the dosage of medication they are taking might not be able to wait more than a month in order to see a specialist.
The numbers are troubling. More than 120,000 veterans waited at least 90 days for appointments for health care, and some never even received appointments. In 2015, the number of veterans waiting 30 days or more for medical care increased by 50 percent.
Often, appointments are available at VA facilities but go unfilled, further contributing to long wait times. A 2008 internal audit by the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated 18 percent of outpatient appointment slots went unfilled due to patient “no-shows” or because facility personnel did not refill the cancelled appointments.
This is unacceptable, and our veterans deserve better. No one should have to wait weeks or months to receive the medical care they need, especially our veterans.
With our bipartisan bill, veterans would be able to self-schedule appointments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and could immediately schedule appointments canceled by other veterans. This would significantly reduce wait times for veterans trying to get appointments because it would ensure that all available appointments are utilized.
This new legislation builds on our work to ensure that our veterans receive the care and respect they have earned when they return home. Whether it is expanding the federal hiring preference for our National Guard and reservists, helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits or making it easier for veterans to get jobs they’re trained for, I know we can do better.
Our Faster Care for Veterans Act capitalizes on state-of-the-art technology that makes it easier to schedule medical appointments. This technology already exists -- and is being used by private sector hospitals and health systems -- to eliminate wait times and ensure that every available appointment is filled. It is common sense that we enable our veterans to use this same technology to schedule their medical appointments without unnecessary red tape and delays. The VA is currently trying to develop its own scheduling application. While this is a great step forward, veterans have already been waiting too long for technology that already exists.
Long wait times put veterans’ lives at risk. After they have sacrificed so much, it is our duty to treat them with the dignity and respect that they have earned. This bipartisan bill would take an important step forward in ensuring that our brave men and women who have sacrificed so much have timely access to the medical care they need and deserve.