Tester Statement on VA’s Failure to Address Lengthy Process for Community Care Referrals

GAO report finds that VA implementation of Veterans Community Care Program needs improvements to ensure timely access to quality care for veterans

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released the following statement today after a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to establish an overall wait time measure for the Veterans Community Care Program—paving the way for veterans to wait an indefinite amount of time before they are connected with care.

“When President Trump signed my legislation to streamline veterans’ access to care in the community into law, it fell to the Administration to ensure the VA MISSION Act was implemented correctly. Unfortunately, the Administration bungled the very health care program designed to provide veterans with timely, quality care by taking too long to get them scheduled for appointments. As Ranking Member, I’m doubling down on my push to ensure that veterans can make an informed choice on where to seek care—whether it’s at Department facilities or in the community. If VA cannot get its house in order, Congress will take action to better ensure that veterans from the Big Apple to Big Sandy can access their earned care in a timely manner.”

In the report, GAO also found that few community providers use VA's new software system to exchange information electronically with VA medical centers, and that only a handful of VA medical centers have the recommended number of staff for the program.

In recent years, VA staff in Montana and elsewhere have struggled with processing both internal and community care referrals, resulting in delayed health care—veterans in Montana wait an average of 44.4 days to receive care in the community. In response to the growing backlog of Montana veterans waiting for health care, Tester introduced the Accountability in VA Scheduling and Consult Management Act, which requires VA to take a hard look at its scheduling protocols and report regularly on how long it is taking to get veterans into the community for care.