VA docs want more support, less paper

With all the talk about problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), agency doctors wish someone would listen to them.

(Charles Dharapak/AP) - Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters.
(Charles Dharapak/AP) – Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters.

The National Association of Veterans Affairs Physicians and Dentists (NAVAPD) hopes to make that happen with a two-day conference beginning Wednesday in Washington. Much of the first session will be devoted to issues such as post traumatic stress disorder,  traumatic brain injury and incidentaloma, or the incidental findings that turn up during other exams and may be (but often are not) cancerous.  

Thursday is devoted to congressional briefings.

Though planned months ago, the conference comes in the midst of a scandal over long wait times for VA patients. On Monday, the department released an audit that reported 64,000 veterans requested care but never appeared on waiting lists, while 57,000 have been waiting for more than 90 days for service.

“I think somebody should start listening to the people that are actually providing the care,” said Dr. Samuel V. Spagnolo, association president. “I think there’s been a little of a deaf ear to some of their requests over time.”

To deal with long waiting lines, he said the VA needs to become more efficient by hiring more support staff and reducing paperwork. Spagnolo didn’t focus on increasing the number of doctors, as Senate legislation calls for, or their pay.

“There may be a few scarce specialties they need to look at again,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a pay issue, although in some areas of the country where they have trouble recruiting it may be an issue.”

While Spagnolo did not focus on a shortage of doctors, the audit released by the department indicates that is a significant problem.

When the department asked front line staffers to rank “barriers and/or challenges to providing Veterans with timely access to care, the highest scored barrier or challenge was the lack of provider slots to offer Veterans, closely followed by limited clerical staffing and the fourteen day standard,” the report said.

Fourteen days was the target the VA set for providing new appointments to veterans. That target “was simply not attainable given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services,” the VA audit said. “Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining the resources required and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure.”

The inability to meet that target also apparently led to the falsification of reports that indicated veterans were getting timely service when they wer not.

The current VA controversy likely will come up during a Wednesday afternoon session with congressional staffers and others.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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