Leadership

American Medical Association Pushes for Action on VA Scandal

By / Jun 11, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

In a position approved by its members, the AMA is pressing the Obama administration to allow veterans to see private doctors as the Department of Veterans Affairs works its way through a massive waiting list.

An ongoing scandal facing the Department of Veterans Affairs has prompted one major medical group to offer a helping hand.

At the American Medical Association Annual Meeting on Tuesday, members approved a policy urging President Obama to let veterans receive medical care at private-sector facilities while the VA works to reduce its massive backlog of patients waiting for appointments. AMA also recommended that state and local medical societies create a registry of physicians who are willing to assist veterans with medical care.

“The AMA believes that all Americans should have access to healthcare, especially those who bravely serve our country,” incoming AMA President Robert M. Wah, M.D., said in a statement. “Our nation’s physicians can and should be a part of the solution to this national crisis to ensure America’s veterans get access to the care they need and deserve.”

The scope of the VA scandal, which led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last month, has become even more apparent in recent days, after the agency’s audit found that 57,436 veterans have waited for 90 days or longer to get an appointment and another nearly 64,000 in the past decade had never been seen by a VA physician.

Congress has taken more action on this issue in recent days. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed the Veterans Access to Care Act, sponsored by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), which would allow veterans to get initial visits to local doctors covered by the VA. The Senate plans to take up a similar measure, co-authored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ), this week, The Washington Post reports.

Both bills would allow veterans who are subjected to long waits for doctor’s appointments, as well as those who live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, to seek alternate treatment. The measures either ban or limit performance-based bonuses that were meant to encourage VA staffers to promptly schedule doctor’s appointments but that in practice led officials to create secret lists that made veterans’ waiting times seem much shorter than they were.

In its vote, AMA encouraged Congress to act speedily on the issue.

AMA isn’t the only association looking to help the VA with its scheduling woes: The Northern Virginia Technology Council recently offered its IT expertise to help the department untangle its web of red tape.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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