OPINION: Tampa Veterans Association isn’t providing patients with deserved care

After concerns about the long wait times for veterans receiving medical appointments continue, the James A. Haley statistics of nearly perfect veteran care calls for suspicion. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR/STEVEN MILLER

Tampa’s Veteran Association (VA) is under scrutiny after its enforcement of the 2019 Mission Act comes into question. Data collected from Jan. 1, 2020 to August 2021 reported that the VA provided exemplary amounts of medical care for veterans. This raises skepticism as to if these numbers indicate a denial of timely care.

In order to ensure veterans get all the care they deserve, the VA needs more transparency about providing them with all their available options. The near perfect numbers beg the question of whether they are truly getting medical attention within the allocated time frame or are being denied care.

After the Phoenix VA Scandal of 2014, where over 40 veterans died waiting in line for medical treatment, it’s been a key concern that the VA provides medical care in a timely manner, according to an April 2014 CNN article.

Many reforms have since been passed to remedy this serious issue like the Mission Act of 2019. This act states that any veteran who has waited over 20 days to receive primary care and 28 days for specialty care from the VA can be referred to a civilian doctor and still get full coverage from the VA.

Despite the passing of this act, the VAs representing the Tampa Bay region — the James A. Haley and Bay Pines networks — still report a shockingly low number of veterans who get community care, with only nine out of 106,000 patients receiving it from January 2020 to August 2021, according to a Feb. 8 WFLA article. 

The Oracle reached out to the James A. Haley veterans hospital for more clarification about how this number is so little, but received no response by the time of publication.

The low number of patients receiving community care has raised concerns as to whether the Mission Act is being violated by not providing patients with community care after the 20-day primary care and 28-day speciality care limit, causing them to endure longer wait times. 

These doubts have even made its way to Sen. Marco Rubio, who called for a congressional investigation into the systematic issues of VA, according to an Aug. 31 article from WFLA

“Most alarmingly, there are reports of internal VA training materials that are actually pushing to reduce community care,” Rubio said in a July 15 letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

Rubio highlights how veterans across the country are not encouraged to use the community care program. This will inevitably lead to many of them suffering delayed wait times for the medical care they need. 

There is speculation that the VA purposely makes the community care process difficult due to financial reasons. Funneling away patients from VA care to community care potentially leads to budget cuts and loss of money, since out-of-network physicians are often too expensive, according to an article by U.S. Medicine

By putting its own financial interests in mind, the VA disregards the health of its patients, which is supposed to be its priority. To not provide them with all of its health care options is to take advantage of the people who have served our country the most. 

The only way to remedy this issue is to call for full transparency from the VA and the full truth as to why so few patients received community care these past two years. Community care should be encouraged if appointments do not meet the time limit, and eligible veterans should have the choice of whose hands their health should be in.