New VA website will feature up-to-date wait times, patients’ reviews

New VA website will feature up-to-date wait times, patients’ reviews
About the Author

Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

The VA will unveil a new website this month that will help veterans make better choices about their health care, Secretary of the VA David Shulkin told MOAA members Tuesday, April 4. 

“You will simply type in where you live or where you want to get care and … automatically what will pop up is where you can get that care within the VA system and what the wait time will be,” Shulkin said. 

The VA secretary was the keynote speaker at a briefing to prepare members of MOAA's board of directors, chapter leaders from across the country, and headquarters staff members before the association's annual Storming the Hill event, which took place Wednesday, April 5. 

The new site, which Shulkin said will launch in the next two weeks, also will allow veterans to rate their care at VA facilities. Allowing patients to see what their peers think about a VA facility will help improve transparency, he said. 

“We all know that there are some really, really good VAs and some that need a lot of work,” Shulkin said. “You're going to be able to see which ones they are based on what your fellow veterans say.” 

The new tools are part of the secretary's 10-point plan to modernize VA care.  While the department posts wait times on its website now, Shulkin said they're often buried in hard-to-read spreadsheets. 

“I've spent a lot of years training in data and statistical analysis, and I can tell you that I can't understand the data on the VA website,” he said. “[The information] is all there, it's all accurate - but I don't see how it helps anyone.” 

VA officials have been holding focus groups with veterans on the new website. The goal, Shulkin said, is to make sure the information they're trying to provide on the new site is easy to understand and helpful. 

Shulkin, who spent most of his career in the private sector, said VA employees must start viewing veterans as their customers. Though he disagrees with the push to privatize VA care, he said creating some competition outside the system could be a good thing. 

If veterans are unhappy with the care they receive from the VA, he said, they'll “vote with their feet” and leave the system. That could be devastating to his department, which is why he said it's important to make sure veterans are treated well and have the tools they need to make important decisions about their health. 

The House and Senate passed legislation to extend the VA's Choice program. Choice, which was set to expire in August, allows some veterans to seek care outside the VA. 

Now that the program has been successfully extended, Shulkin said he'll turn his attention toward rewriting the Choice rules. His hope is that a better version of the program becomes a permanent part of the VA's budget, he said. 

As part of that plan, Shulkin said he would remove the “40-mile, 30-day rule” that currently restricts veterans from going outside the VA for care if they are within 40 miles of a facility or face wait times under 30 days. 

“I hope to be able to give more veterans a choice,” Shulkin said. 

 

 

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