WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire for using inappropriate scheduling practices that hid treatment delays at VA clinics throughout the nation.
The Veterans Health Administration oversees the VA health network, placing the agency at the center of the growing controversy, which has given rise to official investigations and calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s removal from office.
Key facts to help put the agency’s work, workload and problems in perspective:
Total enrollees: About 9.3 million of the nation’s 22 million military veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system. Former troops qualify for VA health care benefits if they have served in the active military and left under any condition other than dishonorable.
Facilities: The VHA is home to the nation’s largest integrated health care network, with 150 VA hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics as of 2013. The agency operates at least one medical center in each state, as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Utilization: The health system handled about 84 million outpatient visits in 2012, representing a 23 percent increase compared with 2008. Shinseki said in March that 6.7 million patients would likely use the network in 2015, a 17 percent increase over 2009.
In the VA’s 2010 national survey of veterans, 16 percent of respondents said they use the system as their primary source of health care, while 35 percent said they use it as a safety net and 32 percent indicated they had no plans to use it.
Patient satisfaction: The VA health system earned marks equal to or better than networks in the private sector in the 2013 American Customer Satisfaction Index.
The health system earned overall satisfaction indexes of 84 for inpatient care and 82 for outpatient services, while the U.S. hospital industry earned scores of 80 and 83 in those categories, respectively.
Jacob Gadd, the American Legion’s deputy director for health care, said the scores probably reflect “pride among veterans that there’s a system for them that understands their unique needs.”
Spending: Slightly more than 40 percent of the VA’s annual budgets went toward medical care between 2000 and 2009, compared with about 45 percent annually for compensation and pensions for employees during the same period.
The VA spent about $40 billion on medical care in 2009, roughly double the department’s expenditures in that category for 2000.
Staffing: VHA employees accounted for nearly 89 percent of the VA’s total 278,565 workers in 2008.
A 2012 audit determined that the agency had not developed an effective method for determining whether its staffing levels were appropriate at any given clinic. VA health official Thomas Lynch said that the department is not sure whether it needs to add or shift personnel to address scheduling problems.