VA approved thousands of ineligible doctors – now lawmakers want changes

Lawmakers are demanding reforms in the way Veterans Affairs officials screen outside doctors for patient medical care after a recent Government Accountability Office review found the department’s referral list contains about 1,600 providers who do not are not eligible to treat veterans, including 601 who have died.

“While [the list] represents a small percentage of the approximately 1.2 million active recipients of the Veterans Community Care Program, they represent potential threats to the health and safety of veterans and risks of financial fraud,” a group of veterans wrote on Friday. representatives in a letter to VA health officials.

“We urge VA to review all ineligible providers identified by the GAO and, if appropriate, deactivate them in the community care network so that veterans are not referred to them for care.”

The request – signed by Representatives Chris Pappas, DN.H. ; Tracey Mann, R-Kansas; Julia Brownley, D-California; and Jack Bergman, R-Mich. — comes amid scrutiny of the VA’s community care program, which allows veterans to receive care from private doctors but charge for appointments with taxpayer dollars.

The program has been a key part of VA health care for decades, but conservatives in recent years have pushed to expand it dramatically due to issues of long wait times and shortages of specialists at some VA medical centers.

But critics of the plan said department officials first need to improve their oversight of community care providers, to ensure they meet the same medical standards and expectations as VA physicians.

The latest GAO review appears to bolster that argument, noting that VA officials had failed to exclude a small but significant number of ineligible providers from the community care program.

In addition to 601 deceased physicians, the list included 216 active providers whose medical license was revoked and 796 who relinquished their medical license in response to an investigation.

A provider had a nursing license that expired in 2016, was arrested for assault in 2018 and convicted of patient abuse in 2019. The individual was still added to the community care list later in 2019, a decision that VA officials have now declared to be an office worker Error.

“The vulnerabilities we have identified … indicate that veterans may potentially be at risk of receiving care from unqualified providers,” the GAO report said.

The researchers offered 10 recommendations for reform, to include monthly checks of all external vendor credentials to look for any activity of concern and better fraud control safeguards for the current application system.

In response, VA officials said they would enact reforms in the coming months, with improvements to periodic vendor credential checks to begin next month.

Lawmakers — all members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee — have asked the department to report on that progress by the end of February.

The full report is available on the GAO website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.

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