VA takes budget ills to Congress as unsettling backlog data surfaces

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | July 15, 2015
Business Affairs Population Health
Even as Veterans Affairs (VA) budget cuts may force hospital closures unless Congress acts swiftly, a newly-leaked document has surfaced that shows over 238,000 of the 847,000 vets stuck on the VA backlog list for care, are in fact dead, according to news reports.

The shocking figures came to light when whistleblower and program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta Scott Davis sent the Huffington Post a report entitled, "Analysis of Death Services."

This latest twist in the VA management scandals came at the same time as VA officials were telling Congress that they need to come up with a plan to adjust their budget to deal with a $3 billion shortfall. Legislators now have until the end of July to figure out what to do or services to vets may be disrupted, according to a report in Military Times.

"If these program funds are not restored, VA will face shutting down hospital operations during August 2015," VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson warned in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the agency's funding proposals, designed to close a $3 billion deficit for the current budget year, according to the Associated Press.

The budget woes come despite Congressional approval of $10 billion over three years for the "Veterans Choice" program, designed by the VA to combat the backlog crisis that scandalized the nation after it hit the front pages in April 2014. Davis was instrumental in bringing to public attention, according to NBC News.

The VA told the legislators that it wants to close the multi-billion-dollar gap with money taken from the Choice program's budget.

At the Monday hearing, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., stated he would work "to give VA the flexibility it's seeking to use a limited amount of Choice funds for non-VA care, and ensure that no veteran suffers as a result of VA's mismanagement."

Additional budget-cutting measures under consideration include furloughs and hiring freezes. These would come at a time, however, when the VA has seen an over 10 percent rise in use of its programs by vets since the initial 2014 revelations, according to Gibson.

A large part of the fiscal problem, more than $2.5 billion, comes from just two sources. One is an unfunded hepatitis C treatment program, the other is the VA's Care in the Community program, which outsources medical care for vets.
(2)

(1)

Brian Parker

This story seems to have several ambiguities

July 16, 2015 02:35

The reasons for the shortfall seems to only focus on the hepatitis C treatment program and the VA's Care in the Community program. Both are funded under the CHOICE funds.

Is the source whistle-blower Scott Davis even credible?

So where is the shortfall?

Log inor Register

to rate and post a comment

(1)

Thomas Dworetzky

re: This story seems to have several ambiguities

July 17, 2015 10:59

Thanks Brian,

When Congress allocated $10 billion last year to cover the Choice Card service over three years there were stipulations preventing those funds from being used for the Hep C and Care in the Community deficits in
question.

As the VA puts it, "VA is requesting an amendment to the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, Section 802, to provide resources that Congress provided for private-sector care to fund VA’s Care in the
Community."

There are some documents here that give the full VA side of the story:
http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2718

As for the credibility of whistleblower Davis, your guess is as good as ours and maybe only time will tell.

Log inor Register

to rate and post a comment

(2)

(1)

Brian Parker

re: re: This story seems to have several ambiguities

July 20, 2015 08:17

Thanks Thomas for the additional information. After reading the documents I would side with the VA for the funds requested to treat Hepatitis C if the Choice program does require a re-authorization every 60 days for a 12-24 week treatment program. TriWest Healthcare Alliance manages the Choice and the VAPC3 Program. See the following link.

https://www.triwest.com/en/

The burn rate for the Choice program looks low and as the VA claims they do not want the funds to go unused. One has to question why the Choice funds are not being used at a higher spend rate. Is the Choice program too restrictive and difficult to use?

Log inor Register

to rate and post a comment

You Must Be Logged In To Post A Comment