KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

After Shinseki Resigns, A Scramble To Fix VA

Warnings about long wait times go back at least to 2005, raising questions about how to overhaul a sprawling system that has been chronically understaffed.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Is The VA In Need Of A Major Overhaul?
The widening scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which led to the ouster of Secretary Eric Shinseki last week and could fell a number of other officials, is sparking a broader debate about whether the agency should be overhauled after a decade of rapid expansion. The VA operates 150 hospitals, more than 1,000 health clinics and 131 cemeteries. It buries, houses, educates, hospitalizes, loans money to, and insures the lives of millions of veterans each year. And the veterans who intersect with the agency span decades of government service, from World War II survivors to those recently returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan (Paletta, 6/2).

Politico: VA Audit Find 'Systemic Lack Of Integrity'
Appointments’ wait times were manipulated at more than 60 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities investigated as part of a new internal audit. The White House-ordered audit found that schedulers faced pressure to manipulate the system and concluded there was a "systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities." ... The audit, issued as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, found that 64 percent of the 216 VA facilities reviewed had at least one instance where a veterans' desired appointment date had been changed (Herb, 5/30).

The Washington Post: Some Of The Internal Problems That Led To VA Health System Scandal
Here is a primer on the agency and some of the internal problems that fed the scandal. ... According to the American Federation of Government Employees, some VA doctors are carrying workloads of more than 2,000 patients — far more than the 1,200 goal set forth in the Veterans Health Administration handbook. The agency is struggling to hire 400 primary-care physicians, positions that are notoriously hard to fill because of a nationwide shortage of these types of doctors. This is not just a VA problem but an issue plaguing the U.S. medical system. ... The Government Accountability Office and the VA inspector general have for years been churning out reports about the long wait times experienced by veterans seeking medical care (Somashekhar, 5/30).

The New York Times: Many Veterans Praise Care, But All Hate The Wait
Marc Schenker, an Air Force veteran in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is having surgery this month to remove a golf-ball-size hernia — but not at a veterans hospital. Mr. Schenker, 67, said he had given up on the Veterans Affairs hospital in Miami after waiting months to get the procedure scheduled and had turned to a private surgeon instead, using Medicare. ... In interviews and in hundreds of responses to a questionnaire posted on The New York Times website, veterans around the country expressed frustration with delayed access to care and what many described as an impenetrable and unresponsive bureaucracy at department hospitals and clinics, even as many praised the quality of care they received once they saw doctors (Goodnough, 5/31).

The Associated Press:  Warnings On VA Hospital Waits Go Back Years
The report last week confirming that 1,700 veterans were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" at a Phoenix hospital was hardly the first independent review that documented long wait times for some patients seeking health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs and inaccurate records that understated the depth of the problem. Eleven years ago, a task force established by President George W. Bush determined that at least 236,000 veterans were waiting six months or more for a first appointment or an initial follow-up. The task force warned that more veterans were expected to enter the system and that the delays threatened the quality of care the VA provided (Freking, 6/1).  

Los Angeles Times: VA Chief And White House Spokesman Resign, Fueling Unease
The next VA secretary will face enormous challenges to repair a system that has been plagued with service delays since at least 2005 and that now is struggling with a flood of claims from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A White House official acknowledged Friday that the staff was in scramble mode to get to the "ground truth" of what happened at the VA and to develop a fix-it plan (Simon, Parsons and Memoli, 5/30).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.