SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) – In 2019, the Care in Community program was launched in South Dakota, allowing veterans to get health care outside of the VA system, booked through a center for VA calls.
However, waiting for an appointment was frustrating for many people trying to get care. Senator Mike Rounds continues to advocate for South Dakota veterans’ access to health care.
“Our veterans could get equal or better care by going to a local doctor or local hospital. Congress authorized it, but VA has been extremely slow to implement it partly because they prefer to keep the money in-house,” Rounds said.
Hearing about these concerns nationwide, Government Accountability Office Health Director Sharon Silas and her staff launched an undercover operation, with callers posing as veterans wanting to make appointments. Calls were made in the Midwest and across the country.
“We thought this would be a good method to help us better understand the challenges of scheduling appointments first hand, and we found many examples of inaccurate information about these providers, limited availability of appointments you and insufficient staff to schedule veteran appointments,” Silas said in a GAO podcast.
The GAO also surveyed VA hospitals and found that only 6% had enough staff to schedule outside doctor appointments. Rounds hopes the recent GAO report will make a difference.
“Sometimes you have to kick your butt a little bit if you want to do something in an organization that’s part of the federal government,” Rounds said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has already responded to the report, promising new plans to create change, implemented in late January 2023.
“Now it is our responsibility. To honor our commitment to them and provide them with the services they have earned,” Rounds said.
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