Obama administration: VA patients can seek care at private hospitals

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the amount the VA spends on medical care at non-VA hospitals.

The Obama administration will allow veterans to seek care at private hospitals in order to alleviate the backlog of patients awaiting treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Associated Press reported.

The VA will also enhance capacity at facility clinics so veterans can get care sooner, Secretary of VA Affairs Eric Shinseki said. In places that can't expand capacity, the VA is "increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," he said.

The decision comes amid allegations VA facilities created secret wait lists to cover up how long patients were waiting for treatment, with accusations popping up at facilities across the country. The scandal erupted when a former physician at a Phoenix facility said as many as 40 veterans on the hospital's secret wait list died as a result of delayed care. In total, the department's inspector general is investigating 26 VA facilities, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House of Veterans' Affairs Committee, commended the White House administration's move, but wondered why it took so long as allegations about the Phoenix hospital surfaced a month ago, according to the article. 

Officials hope the private care options will make it easier for veterans to get care at non-VA facilities, according to NEWS3 in Las Vegas, but some veterans think it will mean even more red tape.

Last year, the VA spent about $4.8 billion on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics--about 10 percent of healthcare costs for the Veterans Health Administration, a spokeswoman told the Associated Press. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both political parties are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations of delayed care, in order to bring an outside, independent authority into the matter, according to Bloomberg.

To learn more:
- here's the article
- read NEWS3's story
- check out the Bloomberg article