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Defining Wait Times: VA Medical Appointments vs. the VA Backlog

The New York Times recently published an article,
Wait Lists Grow as Many More Veterans Seek Care and Funding Falls Short, which paints a bleak picture about the state of the VA’s Health Affairs budget. The article also highlights an increase in the number of veterans waiting one month or more for medical, in part due to an increase in demand.

As conversations around wait times continues, I wanted to revisit a blog that we posted back in March to clarify the difference between wait times for medical appointments and wait times for disability compensation claims. It’s really easy to confuse these two concepts, but important to understand the difference between them. To do this, it’s important to understand VA’s organizational hierarchy.VA Org Chart

The Secretary of the VA oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs, but there are offices and administrations with specific charges that report directly to the Secretary within VA. Often when we focus on the VA, we are focused on one of three main areas: health delivery, benefits delivery, and burials. There are three specific administrations that oversee these tasks: Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the National Cemetery Administration. An undersecretary oversees each of these administrations.

It’s important to understand this to realize that there are distinctions when Congress, the media or other organizations talk about VA healthcare versus other VA benefits. For example, the VA disability compensation benefit is a benefit managed by VBA that assesses potential service-connected injuries and illnesses claimed by the veteran and assigns a disability rating who may then warrant financial compensation as a result.

In the weekly blog The Battle to End the VA Backlog, we track the weekly reports released by VBA and track the data relating the backlog of disability compensation claims. This data is independent of VHA’s Patient Access Data and medical wait times, which reports on medical appointment wait times at VA Healthcare Facilities.

Having said that, the two administrations (VBA and VHA) are not completely exclusive in that veterans seeking the VA disability compensation benefit need compensation and pension exams to establish service-connected illnesses and injuries. So while the disability compensation benefit and healthcare access are managed by two different VA administrations, there is some overlap and cross-administration coordination required, and potentially some impact on the disability compensation claim when there are delays in medical appointment scheduling.

IAVA’s 2014 Red Tape Report goes in to more detail about this overlap, as well as recommending solutions some of the resulting challenges. Most important is the need to assess and better streamline the process by which compensation and pension exams are requested, scheduled and veterans are notified.

To learn more about these services from the veterans who use them, visit The Wait We Carry,  a website that shows veterans’ experiences with VA medical care and the VA disability compensation benefit.

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