The VA is turning to the private sector to help reduce wait times for veterans

According to AP, the Office of Veterans Affairs announced on Tuesday is now allowing veterans with minor injuries and illnesses to seek aid at CVS minute clinics in an effort to cut down on wait times.

This program is only a test-run limited to the Phoenix, Arizona, area. VA Secretary David Shulkin hopes to expand this program nationwide in order to reduce wait times for veterans seeking care. CVS is the largest pharmacy retailer in the United States, and plans to help assist the VA with veteran care by sharing medical records electronically, and providing patient summaries for the VA should the patient need additional services.

“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.

While including the private sector into the VA’s care model, it could have its drawbacks, at least in terms of organization.

Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”

Shulkin has made clear he’d like a broader collaboration of “integrated care” nationwide between the VA and private sector in which veterans have wider access to private doctors. But, he wants the VA to handle all scheduling and “customer service” — something that veterans groups generally support but government auditors caution could prove unwieldy and expensive.

The VA is notorious for its wait times, and unwillingness to fix it. A report in 2015 discovered that over 300,000 veterans may have died before their requests for care had been processed. In 2016, then VA Secretary Robert Donald said that the VA shouldn’t be judged by their wait times, as Disney doesn’t concern itself with theirs. Disney responded by correcting Donald’s assertion, saying they take their wait times very seriously.