The veteran's advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America has been sounding the alarm after millions of veteran's appointments were canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
VA officials tell ABC15 some of these appointments were canceled by veterans themselves, others by the specialists or the VA healthcare system.
This has advocates asking, "how long it will take to get all these veterans back on track with their medical care?" And they want to know how many of the canceled appointments have been rescheduled by the VA so far.
Advocates with Concerned Veterans for America worry this could lead to another wait-time scandal within the VA healthcare system, like the one in 2014, when many veterans died while waiting to see the doctor.
"The VA canceled something like 19-million plus appointments, and they will not tell us how many of those veterans they've reconnected to services," said Sam Rogers, an Afghan war veteran with Concerned Veterans for America. The organization has put in multiple requests for public information from the agency that Rogers said had yet to be answered. However, VA officials did reach out to ABC15 with a response.
"It's still something we are recovering from and even trying to figure out now that we're into this new wave," said Dr. Kameron Matthews, the VA assistant undersecretary for clinical services. Dr. Matthews pointed out that like other community hospitals, it was important to note that the VA hospitals never shut down, even during the pandemic. In fact, 2020 was a record-setting year for the number of telehealth appointments conducted by VA medical professionals.
"That care was rescheduled, it was handled virtually, handled by a telephone call, prescriptions were done electronically. All veterans' needs were met," said Dr. Matthews.
Advocates with Concerned Veterans for American said they continue to hear from dozens of veterans who are telling them they cannot get an appointment fast enough. Advocates also expressed concerns that the VA was slow to follow the Mission Act, a law that required the VA to give any veteran who could not see a provider within 20 days permission to seek care outside the VA healthcare facilities.
Rogers said many veterans had reached out to the organization saying they have been waiting for clearance to see an outside provider for months.
"We are continuing to improve how we handle referrals. Really, that administrative side of receiving appointments in the community, those times are decreasing as well," said Dr. Matthews.
She went on to point out that VA wait times were well below national standards.
VA officials sent ABC15 a statement saying they were confident that all veterans who had canceled appointments would continue to have opportunities to shift their care to telephone, video or when safe, in-person clinical visits, based on their needs.
If you are or know of a veteran in crisis, veterans and their loved ones can call or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
Here are some other helpful numbers for veterans who need help.