Years later, VA still hasn't set maximum wait times for community care referrals

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More than a year after the Department of Veterans Affairs Mission Act expanded opportunities for veterans to receive care in their communities paid for by VA, the department still has not set acceptable maximum wait times for that care. 

In a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Monday, investigators found that though the community care expansion launched nationwide in June 2019, replacing the expiring Choice Act, there were still no standards for wait times, few community care providers were using VA's new software to communicate with VA hospitals and few VA hospitals had enough staff to handle the program. 

The GAO has recommended VA establish maximum acceptable wait times for community care since 2013, long before the Mission Act, and again in 2018. But it never happened. Now, GAO is recommending that Congress consider forcing VA to set maximum wait times for the program. 

VA allows up to 19 days for the department to complete the steps to create a community care referral in the first place, but it has no set allowable wait time for veterans to actually receive care -- meaning veterans could be left waiting an "indefinite" amount of time. Once the referral is processed, it's uncertain how long veterans may have to wait, and VA has no standard by which to hold its partnered community care providers. 

By not overseeing wait times, VA may be violating the Mission Act, which places the responsibility on the department.