VA announces access standards for health care

Strengthening VA Health Care

Today, our Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, announced proposed access standards for Veteran community care as part of VA’s efforts to implement the VA MISSION Act.  Improving access standards is one of the many steps VA has and will continue to take to ensure that we are providing the best health care for our Veterans.  I know that this is a goal that we all share and that your commitment to support such efforts is unwavering.  This commitment will be demonstrated by Veterans choosing VA for their health care. 

The proposed access standards support our goal of making sure Veterans have the best access to care when and where they need it, allowing VA to deliver world-class, seamless customer service to Veterans either through a VA medical facility or community provider.  The access standards will soon be formally proposed in the Federal Register as a regulation, and I encourage you to provide your input during the public comment period.  The standards will take effect later when the regulations are published as final.

The President promised that Veterans would be able to choose care that they trust.  The future of the VA healthcare system is in the hands of Veterans, as it should be.  Under the proposed access standards, eligible Veterans will continue to have a choice whether to receive care at a VA medical facility or a community provider.  This means that while access to community care will be improved, it doesn’t mean that we can slow down our work to strengthen VA health care, nor does it mean there are efforts to privatize VA health care—far from it.  In fact, we are improving and providing some of the best care ever to our nation’s Veterans.

As Secretary Wilkie noted, our healthcare system completed over 58 million Veteran appointments in FY2018, an increase of 3.4 million since 2014, meaning the amount of care we’re providing within VA medical facilities is going up.  We have drastically cut wait times for primary care and two of three specialty care areas, which are now shorter than in the private sector.  For example, the wait time for urgent specialty care appointments was cut from 19 days in FY2014 to only 2.1 days in FY2018.  And today, all VA medical facilities offer same-day services to Veterans in primary care and mental health.   From these improvements, it’s no surprise that Veterans’ trust in VA has risen to 87.7 percent.

This has been made possible by your dedication and commitment to providing Veterans with outstanding health care every day and night of the week.  Indeed, you are professionals of the highest caliber who truly inspire me. 

Even with the improvements to community care under the proposed access standards, I believe Veterans will continue to choose VA for their health care based on our deep knowledge and experience of Veterans’ needs, our same-day services and short wait-times, and our outstanding quality of care.

Thank you for everything you do.  Let’s continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in serving our nation’s Veterans.

Richard A. Stone, MD

Executive in Charge, VHA

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