At Hearing, Tester Presses VA Under Secretary for Health on Increasing Rural Veterans’ Access to Timely Community Care

Continuing efforts to improve community care, Chairman touted upcoming legislation to streamline VA’s scheduling processes, increase non-clinical staff hiring, adopt national standard for transferring health information, and more

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday to examine the effectiveness of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Office of Integrated Veteran Care, Chairman Jon Tester questioned VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal on VA’s performance in meeting the needs of veterans nationwide.

“The complaint that I hear from veterans in Montana…is the length of time for an appointment to be scheduled [in the community],” Tester said. “Dr. Elnahal, walk us through the reasons there are delays and what are you doing to fix that?”

“The most important reason we see delays in scheduling care in the community is that we don’t have yet have standardized streamlined processes implemented across the system,” Dr. Elnahal replied. “That is one of the most important charges I’ve asked Integrated Veteran Care to focus on to ensure that consistency and oversight.”

Elnahal continued, “But I also think that many veterans have told us that they’d rather schedule the appointment themselves…veterans feel empowered when you give them an authorization and you give them a community provider within our network…and so we want to expand that opportunity to more and more services over time. And I think if we do, the evidence shows that we will reduce the time to schedule [appointments].”

The VA Under Secretary also confirmed the Department is closely tracking the time for scheduling community care appointments at every medical center nationwide—with “expectations for improvement throughout the fiscal year.”

During his opening statement, Tester also highlighted his upcoming legislative effort—the Making Community Care Work for Veterans Act of 2023—to improve the community care program Congress put in place with the VA MISSION Act. Tester’s bill will include provisions to streamline internal referrals so veterans can receive faster care, increase non-clinical support staff hiring, adopt national interoperability standards for the electronic transfer of health information to increase VA’s coordination of veterans’ care, and more.

This Congress, Tester is continuing his push to bolster VA’s capacity to deliver timelier care by providing VA with more tools to recruit and retain medical personnel with his bipartisan VA CAREERS Act and strengthen VA infrastructure with his BUILD for Veterans Act.


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