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VA to speed healthcare access in scandal’s wake

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving to slash patient wait times following reports linking delays at agency-run healthcare clinics to a series of deaths in recent years.

Regulations proposed Tuesday are designed to speed healthcare for veterans by expanding access to private providers.
 
The draft rule would map out a new Veterans Choice Program, laying out new guidelines for covered services, eligibility requirements, reimbursement rates and criteria that non-VA providers must meet to participate.
 

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To qualify, healthcare providers must already participate in the Medicare program and must able to offer timely, qualified care within a reasonable distance from the veteran’s home. 
 
By paying to send veterans to private doctors of their choosing, the agency said veterans could receive care sooner. The program is authorized to run for three years or until resources for the Veterans Choice Fund run out.
 
“It’s intended as a short-term solution to expand access to care while VA enhances its capacity to furnish care in a timely and accessible manner,” the report said.
 
The VA also said Tuesday it would publish the wait times for primary care, specialty care, hospital care and medical services in the Federal Register and on the VA Medical Center website, a requirement of legislation enacted earlier this year.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act directed the VA to begin publishing wait times within 90 days. The measure was signed into law on Aug. 7.
 
The proposed rule and notice come six months after former VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric ShinsekiTrump VA secretary considerations full of reform-minded candidates Veterans group blasts VA secretary, despite words of regret Cruz: VA secretary 'should resign' MORE stepped down in May. His resignation came on the heels of audits showing department officials had covered up long patient wait times at more than 100 facilities. As a result, some questioned whether the delays were related to dozens of patient deaths.
 
The Veteran Health Administration’s current wait time goal is less than 30 days, but the VA wants to revise that timetable for the program in the future. 

“There are over 100 ongoing investigations of VA facilities right now by the VA Office of the Inspector General, by the FBI, by the Department of Justice, by the Office of Special Counsel and others to collect evidence in pursuit of potential disciplinary actions,” the VA said in a statement Tuesday night. “When evidence of wrongdoing is discovered, VA will hold employees accountable and take action as quickly as law and due process allows. In each case, we'll take the appropriate disciplinary action when all the facts and evidence found by the investigators are known.”
 
Since June 2014, VA said it has proposed disciplinary action against more than 40 employees nationwide related to data manipulation or patient care.
 
The public has 120 days to comment on the Veterans Choice Program.

This story was updated with additional information at 6:58 p.m.