One year after reports of long waitlists and coverups of care delays rocked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), not only have waitlists only grown longer, but a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion could affect care for many veterans, according to a report in The New York Times.
The number of veterans on waitlists of one month or longer is up 50 percent from last year, according to the report. While VA officials reacted to the scandal by increasing the agency's capacity to treat veterans, it has been overwhelmed by the number of new patients seeking treatment at the country's VA facilities, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson said in an interview with the Times.
"Something has to give," Gibson said. "We can't leave this as the status quo. We are not meeting the needs of veterans, and veterans are signaling that to us by coming in for additional care, and we can't deliver it as timely as we want to."
VA officials are expected to petition Congress to allow them to shift money into programs running short of funds, the newspaper said. At the same time, the VA is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the funding gap.
In a controversial move, the VA is also moving to outsource care for up to 180,000 veterans with hepatitis C, a serious blood and liver condition, USA Today reports. It's costing the government billions of dollars to treat the condition with more effective but expensive new drugs. The proposal included the possibility of rationing new treatments among veterans, with patients who have less than a year to live or who suffer from a "persistent vegetative state or advanced dementia" ineligible for treatment, the newspaper reports.
Despite the public fallout from the scandal and billions of dollars spent on reforms, the number of patients facing long waits has not dropped, FierceHealthcare reported earlier this year. Legislators say there is no easy fix to the issues that plague the agency.