11.30.16

Kilmer & Newhouse Introduce Bill to Fix Veterans Healthcare System Mismanagement Issues

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced legislation to force the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to move forward on fixes to its mismanagement issues. Their bill, the VA Management Alignment Act of 2016, would direct the head of the VA to issue a report to Congress detailing the steps they will take to reorganize and effectively improve veterans’ access to quality care.   

The legislation follows the release of the first in a series of comprehensive studies that uncovered management problems at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). In the report the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that following scandals related to manipulated wait times and management failures the VA did not follow through on internal and Congressional recommendations to fix the problems.

“Our legislation will help us ensure we can take care of veterans who have sacrificed so much to protect us,” said Kilmer. “After stories and reports about manipulated wait times and mismanagement in our VA system, it became clear systemic reforms were needed. We are calling on the VA to address systemic management challenges and improve care so veterans get the services they have earned.”

“Veterans deserve accountability and improved care after facing mismanagement at the VA,” said Newhouse. “I am glad to work with my colleague Rep. Kilmer on this legislation that will require the VA to respond with a framework to address problems on behalf of the men and women who served in uniform.”

The bill from Kilmer and Newhouse calls for the VA to deliver their report to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives within 180 days of the act’s passage. The report would spell out the roles and responsibilities for senior staff and organizational units within the VA and how they work together to promote efficiency and accountability.

In 2014, news reports came out about patient delays at the Phoenix VA and other facilities across the country. A national audit of the VA was conducted and it was found at the time that the VA Puget Sound hospital had new patients waiting 59 days – on average – for an appointment. Nearly 100,000 veterans use the VA Puget Sound system. Nationally, the audit found that 13 percent of VA schedulers reported that supervisors told them to manipulate appointments to make wait times look shorter. 

The original GAO report evaluated how well the VHA followed through on recommendations to change management practices from internal and outside reviews of the organization. It also looked at how well a realignment of Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) from 21 to 18 was being carried out. Each VISN oversees all VA facilities and personnel in separate regions of the country.

The GAO found:

  • Recommendations not carried out: A number of different recommendations from the internal and outside reviews were given to the VHA central offices to more effectively detail what roles and responsibilities need to be carried out at local and national facilities, better measure how core VHA duties are completed, and the best ways to improve services, planning, and communications throughout the entire system. The GAO found that despite spending more than $68 million on these efforts, the majority of these recommendations were not agreed to or implemented by leadership at the VHA. 
  • No guidance on realignment: The GAO discovered that the VHA did not create a plan to guide the reduction of the VISN networks from 21 to 18. Instead, they allowed each to move forward independently without any guidance or direction. That created problems at the regional level as VISN officials tried to figure out on their own how to incorporate new VA facilities of different sizes and patient populations and matching up electronic records correctly.