Last updated: August 25. 2014 1:25PM - 79 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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Veterans waiting for a primary care appointment at a VA medical facility may now be able to get one at a private physician under a program that allows veterans to seek medical treatment outside the Veterans Affairs Department. VA announced Aug. 13 that primary care has been added to its Patient-Centered Community Care, or PC3, program.

The initiative originally was designed to provide specialty care, in-patient and mental health treatment to veterans who could not access a VA hospital or clinic because of distance or prolonged wait times and their regular facility. But it was expanded to include primary care in an effort to expedite treatment to patients sitting on wait lists, according to a VA release.

“With the addition of primary care services, VA medical centers can now use PC3 to provide additional types of care in order to reduce wait times,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a prepared statement.

In September, VA awarded contracts worth up to $9.4 billion over five years to two health care companies to provide specialty care and mental health treatment in the private sector under the PC3 program. Former Tricare West Region contractor TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Health Net Federal Services, the company that manages the Tricare North Region, run the program.

According to VA, the change is part of the department’s “Accelerated Care Initiative,” a massive effort to move veterans — many of whom have waited months for care — off appointment wait lists. VA has been under fire since April for allegations that some facilities gamed the appointment system to meet VA metrics and excessive wait times for appointments and consults may have lead to patient deaths.

The scandal led to the resignation of several top officials, including VA Secretary Erik Shinseki, who left the department in May.

While VA facilities have had the authority to outsource care, many facilities have been reluctant to use the option and in turn, many veterans prefer to use the VA, which they perceive as a benefit earned with military service. VA spent $5 billion on private-sector care in 2013 and launched the PC3 program in January to provide care to veterans using established health care provider networks.

TriWest President David McIntyre described the PC3 program as a “release valve” for overburdened VA facilities.

For more information on obtaining private medical care through VA, the department recommends turning to its non-VA care web site www.nonvacare.va.gov/PC3/index.asp.

If you or someone you know started a claim through eBenefits since early 2013, remember that those claims expire if not completed and submitted within 365 days. As thousands of claims face expirations, DAV wants to remind you that they have nearly 280 National Service Officers nationwide who are ready to help veterans and families obtain earned benefits.

VA’s electronic claim submission process lets veterans start a claim online with limited information, allowing 365 days to collect data, treatment records, and other related information. During that year, a veteran may add data or upload documents pertinent to the claim.

At any point in that year, a veteran may click “submit” and a claim will be established. But after 365 days, any data in an incomplete claim becomes inaccessible and the initiated claim date is removed from the system. DAV services are 100% free, and they’re provided by the most highly trained and experienced representatives in their field.

All NSOs are veterans with service-connected disabilities, who have the expertise to make sure the right information is gathered and properly submitted. For assistance go to the DAV website www.dav.org/ and enter your ZIP code. You will be provided a telephone number and location where you can get assistance or you can complete an online email to explain the services you need.

Adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars, VA disability compensation to veterans amounted to $54 billion in 2013, or about 70 percent of VBA’s total mandatory spending, according to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The remainder of the department’s mandatory spending that year was for programs that provide veterans with housing assistance, education, vocational training, and other assistance.

In 2013, about 3.5 million of the nation’s 22 million veterans received disability compensation benefits. (Those benefits are distinct from the health benefits provided through the Veterans Health Administration [VHA].)

From 2000 to 2013, the number of veterans who were receiving disability payments rose by almost 55 percent, from 2.3 million to 3.5 million (see Figure 1 below), despite a 17 percent decline in the total population of living veterans, from nearly 27 million to 22 million.

In 2000, 9 percent of all veterans received disability benefits; by 2013, that proportion had risen to 16 percent. Over the same period, the average real (inflation-adjusted) annualized disability payment also rose by nearly 60 percent — from $8,100 in 2000 to $12,900 in 2013 — consistent with increases in the average number and average severity of compensable disabilities per veteran.

Both the share of veterans receiving disability payments and the average real amount of those payments increased for veterans from all periods of service. Those increases can be attributed to several factors: changes in policy that made it easier for veterans to claim benefits, the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and difficult labor market conditions during the past several years.

Spending on veterans’ disability benefits has almost tripled since fiscal year 2000, from $20 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2013. VA projects that obligations will total $60 billion in 2014 and $64 billion in 2015, a 19 percent increase from two years earlier.

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