Perry proposes plan to ease VA medical backlog

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) – Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday proposed a partnership between Texas health care providers and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that would help reduce backlogs at VA facilities by expanding health care options for veterans in the state.

During an appearance at Fort Hood, Perry announced efforts to identify Texas hospitals willing to take more patients from backlogged VA facilities.

“There is no greater charge than taking care of those who have served in our nation’s Armed Forces, which is why we are working to offer alternatives for veterans who have found their federal options lacking, or worse, nonexistent,” Perry said at a groundbreaking for a new medical facility specializing in mental health treatment.

Perry also proposed reimbursement for participating Texas hospitals through Medicare so providers are paid more quickly.

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Several of the largest health systems in Texas – some of which already accept VA patients – have signed onto the idea, according to Perry aides. Perry’s plans would require the federal government’s approval.

Also Thursday, officials with the Texas Veterans Commission announced they are looking at setting up “state strike force teams” that would help with delays in access to health care. These teams of counselors would work with veterans on getting them quicker access to health care.

The U.S. Senate and House this week have passed bills making it easier for veterans who have encountered delays getting initial visits to receive VA-paid treatment from local doctors instead. Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said Perry’s proposal to the Veteran Affairs Department builds on those measures by identifying hospitals “willing to step up” and offering a solution to slow reimbursements for providers.

Federal data released this week showed that VA facilities in Texas have some of the longest wait times for veterans trying to see a doctor for the first time. The FBI has launched an investigation into the Veteran Affairs Department amid allegations of falsified records and inappropriate scheduling practices.

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Veterans aren’t supposed to wait more than 14 days for an appointment, but a national audit this week stated that’s “not attainable,” given growing demand for VA services and poor planning.

Among providers that have bought into the plan proposed by Perry are Baylor Scott and White, Christus Health and hospitals and clinics operated by the University of North Texas and University of Texas systems, Nashed said.

Christus Health spokeswoman Abby McNeil said their system that operates more than 40 hospitals and facilities in Texas and beyond has difficulties getting reimbursed for VA patients. Christus now has a backlog of 1,500 claims across Texas that are more than 30 days late in being paid, she said, adding that the system has sought help from Texas’ congressional delegation.

The idea for the “strike force teams” was discussed during a meeting in Houston Thursday of the state Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee.

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The teams would be similar to ones set up in 2012 to deal with disability claims backlogs at VA facilities in the state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the committee, said she has asked the Texas Veterans Commission to create a plan within the next two weeks for the new teams.

At Thursday’s hearing, Georgia Barraza, told committee members about delays her father, George Barraza, 59, encountered in trying to get medical care at a VA facility in Houston. She said her father died in April as he waited for a June appointment to get treatment for liver cancer.

“I just feel if my dad had money, private insurance, maybe he would have been diagnosed. Maybe he would be here today. I don’t feel he was taken care of in the way he should have been,” Barraza said.