Expansion of Hours at Some VA Clinics Leads to 25,000 New Patients

Expansion of Hours at Some VA Clinics Leads to 25,000 New Patients
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This article by Linda F. Hersey originally appeared on Stripes.com. Stars and Stripes serves the U.S. military community by providing editorially independent news and information around the world.


WASHINGTON — A new Department of Veterans Affairs initiative to provide health care appointments at night and on weekends at participating VA health clinics resulted in an additional 25,000 new patients between October 2023 and February 2024, department officials said Tuesday.


The percentage of new patients seeing VA doctors increased by 11% compared with the same time a year ago, the VA said.


Since expanding the schedule for more health care appointments, 81% of participating VA medical centers reported an increase in new patients receiving medical services during those five months, the VA said.


The wait time for appointments also was down for many new patients. The percentage of new patients having to wait more than three weeks for their first medical appointment in the areas of primary and specialty care dropped by 12% during that time, the VA said.


[RELATED: Veterans’ Caregivers Can Appeal VA Eligibility Decisions, Court Rules]


A recent staff expansion by the Veterans Health Administration made it possible for the VA to increase hours for medical appointments at many clinics, according to the department.


However, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Tuesday during a news conference that the VA is planning a staff reduction, though it will be done largely through attrition. He said medical staff positions in the areas of primary care and specialty care services would not be affected.


The VA hired more than 60,000 employees in preparation for an increase in health care enrollment under the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, also known as the PACT Act.


The PACT Act provides health care and disability benefits to qualifying veterans who developed medical conditions after service-related exposure to toxic substances, including burn pits, radiation and chemical defoliants.


Last year, more than 100,000 veterans enrolled for health care under provisions of the PACT Act.


[RELATED: Millions of Vets Exposed to Toxins Will Be Eligible for VA Health Care on March 5]


McDonough also said the VA is “constantly considering” expanding PACT Act coverage for other locations where veterans could have been exposed to harmful substances while on active duty.


He advised veterans who believe they were exposed to hazardous substances in the U.S. or overseas to enroll in VA care and file a claim to establish a service connection.


“My message to veterans is if you feel like you were exposed to toxins, like lead or asbestos or another substance, let’s get you enrolled in VA care,” McDonough said.


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