TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – National data obtained by 8 on Your Side dovetails with Tampa-area stats that indicate less than 1% of VA patients in the wait-time triggered Community Care program received primary care.
But there is sharp disagreement about what the numbers mean when it comes to how long veterans are actually waiting for healthcare with their primary physicians.
National data from a recent two-year period ending late last year, shows 432,000 out of 61.2 million veterans who completed Community Care appointments got primary care, representing .7 percent of the total.
Bay Area data from the same time frame revealed 9 out of 106,000 recieved primary care. That is a miniscule fraction of 1 percent, totaling .008 percent.
The data potentially supports claims from several former and current VA employees who have told 8 on Your Side they were trained to steer veterans away from primary care.
VA spokesman Randal Noller has denied employees were trained to do that and said the data shows veterans are choosing the VA over private sector doctors.
“Even when eligible, Veteran experience data has shown us that the vast majority prefer to receive care at VA,” Noller said. “We are proud of our work fully implementing the VA Mission Act.”
Senator Marco Rubio said his office is “very interested” in looking into the VA employee claims and that rosy data.
“We have real deep systemic problems at the VA,” Rubio said. ” Congress can conduct an investigation of this. It’s one of the oversight functions that we have. Congress and the veterans committee has the power to subpoena these documents and we’ll ask them to hold hearings on this.”
Tampa-Area U.S. Representative Kathy Castor said she does not think there is any deception by the VA in offering primary care through the Community Care program, and she credited the agency’s clinics for the near-perfect primary care stats.
“Part of the reason is because we’ve invested in the clinic system,” Castor said. “I would encourage any of the VA employees that have any information like that to come to my office and other members of congress so that we can dive into that.”
Wait times are the key stat for Community Care that forces the VA to pay civilian doctors to care for patients who wait 20 days or longer for primary care and mental health appointments, and 28 days for specialty care.
Veterans also qualify for Community Care if they live too far from a VA facility or if the care they need is not offered.
The 2014 Choice Act was enacted by Congress and created Community Care after several veterans died while waiting for care on secret lists allegedly created to hide long wait times.
But critics claimed the VA was not properly calculating the wait times, prompting the 2018 Mission Act that stated the wait time calendar should start on the date the patient requests an appointment.