Help on the way for vets still struggling with health care

12/29/2016

Some vets still struggle with health care but help is on the way at VA

There have been plenty of headlines in recent years about the ways in which health care systems - both public and private - sometimes fail veterans and their families. The good news, though, is that with increased visibility of these issues comes a stronger push to fix the problems former service members face in getting the care they need. And while that might not provide much relief right now, the ability to get those wheels in motion could pay off considerably down the road.

One such issue that recently began to gain attention in the Midwest is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where an elderly veteran who needed to go to the hospital was taken by ambulance to a non-VA care center, according to a report from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The portion of the bill that came from that hospital stay and wasn't covered by Medicare Part A came to nearly $10,000 and needed the VA to either approve or deny its coverage of those costs so his family could move forward.

That has yet to happen, despite the fact that the vet is now in hospice care, the report said. As a result, it may be difficult for his family to proceed with other issues they need to address.

The VA is working to clear up lingering problems with its quality of care.The VA is working to clear up lingering problems with its quality of care.

A common problem
Unfortunately, long delays in getting VA approval for non-VA care when they have another insurer are well known among vets across the country, the report said. Hundreds of thousands have been left in the lurch over the years, and federal lawmakers have worked to draw attention to the issue. U.S. Senators Mike Rounds and Amy Klobuchar - a South Dakota Republican and Minnesota Democrat, respectively - have asked the VA to hurry this process along and resolve lingering financial problems for many veterans nationwide.

This comes in the wake of a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims made back in April, which said the VA should have to take care of vets' bills when another insurer is involved, the report said. However, the VA is appealing that ruling.

Other VA issues
Meanwhile, the VA is no stranger to controversial issues stemming from to how it handles veteran care and related issues, as evidenced by a recent investigation from USA Today. Specifically, the investigation turned up internal ratings for VA care centers across the country, which previously hadn't been shared with the public. As a result of the investigation, the VA moved to publish that data on its website so that people could more carefully evaluate the quality of care they might be able to receive in their regions.

"120 of the 146 medical centers saw some improvement."

"I am glad to see these ratings finally made public," U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican who has been pushing for the disclosures, told the newspaper. "This not only helps veterans know basic information about their health care options, it allows stakeholders in the community and members of Congress to demand better of the VA when improvement is needed."

The good news for veterans at this time is that greater publicity of the VA's struggles with quality of care seems to be pushing hospitals in the right direction, the report said. In all, 120 of the 146 medical centers listed - more than 82 percent - saw at least some improvement in their ratings from 2015 to 2016. Meanwhile, only five posted declines in quality of care during that same period.

But despite these improvements, federal lawmakers say they want even more transparency from the VA and pledge to work toward new ways for veterans to get as much information and high-quality care as possible, the report said.

Moving in the right direction
The good news is that veterans' feelings seem to match internal VA metrics for measuring quality of care, according to the Harvard Business Review. A recent poll found that 3 in 4 veterans say they get effective care and service from the VA, up from fewer than 2 in 3 a year ago, and organization officials say a big part of that improvement has come as a result of inward focus. The VA now works with medical professionals both from within and outside the military as a means of getting a more holistic view of how best to treat the nation's service members, which particularly helped to identify inefficiencies with previous systems.

Further, one of the big complaints about the VA was always that it was a little too rigid in how it dealt with veterans who needed care, the report said. Now, leaders say the organization is far more focused on principle. VA employees say they feel they have greater agency to achieve various goals they might not have if they were strictly adhering to rules and regulations.

Veterans who regularly tap VA services for their various health issues may see the improvements mentioned above slowly but surely, and that can provide some necessary peace of mind as they pursue a happy, healthy civilian life.

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