News

Report: VA needs $17.6B to clear wait times

Report: VA needs $17.6B to clear wait times

VETERANS AFFAIRS: Veterans Affairs acting Secretary Sloan Gibson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the state of VA health care in the wake of revelations of neglect and delayed medical visits. He is accompanied by Assistant Deputy Undersecretary For Health For Administrative Operations Philip Matkowsky. Photo: Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs needs $17.6 billion in additional funding over the next three years to eliminate long waiting times for veterans’ healthcare appointments, the embattled agency’s acting chief said on Wednesday.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told senators that without additional resources to buy private care and increase internal capacity, “the wait times just get longer” as more veterans return from wars, get older and turn to VA for healthcare.

Gibson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the $17.6 billion request would only last through the 2017 fiscal year. About $10 billion of the total would be needed to purchase private care for veterans and hire about 10,000 additional clinical staff, including about 1,500 physicians.

But to keep ahead of the rising population of veterans needing VA care, even more money will be needed in the future, Gibson said.

“These funds represent only the current shortfalls in clinical staff, space, information technology and purchased care necessary to provide timely, high-quality care,” Gibson said.

The VA has been rocked by scandal in the past three months over systematic cover-ups of months-long waiting times for medical appointments at its clinics and hospitals across the country. In Phoenix, doctors have alleged that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.

The controversy caused retired Army General Eric Shinseki to resign as VA secretary in late May. President Barack Obama appointed Gibson, a former banker who joined the VA in February, to run the department temporarily.

Obama has since nominated Bob McDonald, the former chief executive of consumer products giant Procter and Gamble Co, to be secretary. McDonald will face the Senate veterans panel next week in a confirmation hearing.

Gibson said he had been working with the White House budget office to develop the funding request.

Both the House and Senate have passed legislation aimed at speeding care to veterans, allowing them to see private doctors for two years at VA expense if forced to endure long waits. But lawmakers are reeling from sticker shock after the Congressional Budget Office pegged the cost at $35 billion over 10 years.

The number Gibson gave to senators was significantly lower and would be more geared to purchasing private care in the near term. Later in the 2014-2017 period, the VA would rely more on expanding its own internal capacity.

He said that VA would likely be more efficient at caring for veterans, who tend to be “older, sicker and poorer” than the general population.

About $6 billion of the $17.6 billion request would cover construction of new clinics and other facilities, which would open up about 8 million new appointment slots per year, Gibson said.

The VA operates the largest U.S. healthcare system, providing healthcare to nearly 9 million U.S. veterans at some 1,700 facilities, including 150 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Recent Headlines

19 hours ago in Music

This week’s top country tracks

lukebryan

LISTEN: This week's top country tracks, according to the latest Billboard chart.

2 days ago in Entertainment

Bill Murray tosses fans’ phones off rooftop

billmurray

The "Ghostbusters" star was unwinding at rooftop restaurant in California on Thursday when he spotted two starstruck fans trying to snap his photo.

2 days ago in Entertainment

OPENING WEEKEND: ‘Deadpool,’ ‘Zoolander 2’ to battle at the box office

15-overlay-6

Here's a look at some of the films set to open this weekend.

2 days ago in Entertainment, National

Roses and roaches: Cold-hearted Valentine’s Day ideas

valentines

With the coldest air in more than a decade forecast to grip the United States this Valentine's Day weekend, the holiday dedicated to love is flashing its frigid side.

2 days ago in Music, Entertainment

Woodstock 50th anniversary celebration in the works

woodstock

Organizers of the original Woodstock festival are trying to get something together to mark the golden anniversary of the event in 2019.