Newsbytes March 29, 2024

In this issue:
VA Increases Access to Health Care
Veterans Prescribed Wrong Medications Update
Cyber Incident
Vietnam Veterans Day


VA Increases Access to Health Care for Veterans through Nationwide Access Sprints
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it has made it easier and faster for veterans to access VA health care nationwide through Access Sprints – an initiative to expand access to care by offering night and weekend clinics, increasing the number of veterans scheduled into daily clinic schedules, and more. As a result of these sprints, VA saw approximately 25,000 more new patients from October 2023 to February 2024 compared to the same period last year – and new patient appointments increased by 11 percent. Additionally:

- VA Medical Centers saw 81 percent more new patients than the same period last year;
- Fewer new patients (12 percent) are waiting more than 20 days for an appointment; and
- Fewer new patients (14 percent) are waiting for appointments with a community provider due to wait time eligibility.

The VA claims that veterans who receive VA health care have better health outcomes than non-enrolled veterans, and VA hospitals have dramatically outperformed non-VA hospitals. Additionally, VA health care is often more affordable than non-VA health care for veterans. VA is currently delivering more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before in our nation’s history.

VA is undertaking this effort at a time when they are also expanding health care eligibility for millions of veterans nationwide under the PACT Act. As of March 5th, 2024, all veterans who were exposed to toxins and other hazards while serving in the military and meet certain requirements became eligible to enroll directly in VA health care. This means that all veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror, or any other combat zone after 9/11 will be eligible to enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits. Additionally, veterans who never deployed but were exposed to toxins or hazards while training or on active duty in the United States will also be eligible to enroll.

This increase in access to care is part of a nationwide VA Access Sprint to increase access to care for veterans. Local VA facilities and regional networks spent several months designing and implementing locally driven innovations and tried-and-true practices. As part of VA’s ongoing strategy of multiple, large-scale initiatives aimed at the goal of providing the soonest and best care to veterans, their focus was to improve timeliness, efficiency, capacity, and employee experience.

This expansion of care is made possible, in part, by last year’s record hiring in VA’s Veterans Health Administration. Last year, we exceeded our hiring goals in the Veterans Health Administration – growing at the fastest rate in 15 years and bringing in more than 61,000 new hires – to prepare for an increase in VA health care enrollment among Veterans under the PACT Act. In total, VHA now has more employees than ever before in our history, and VA’s retention efforts also led to a 20 percent decrease in turnover rate among VHA employees from 2022 to 2023.

For more information about VA care, visit VA’s health care website.


Veterans Prescribed Wrong Medications Update
As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) commitment to veteran safety, VA identified and addressed an issue that may have impacted medication and allergy safety checks for veterans who receive their care from more than one VA facility. This story was first reported in the February 23, 2024, issue of FRA Newsbytes and affects patients who have previously received care at the Spokane, WA; Walla Walla, WA; Roseburg; White City; or Columbus, OH VA Health Care Systems.

Specifically, a Federal electronic health record (EHR) software coding issue incorrectly transmitted medication information – known as VA Unique Identifiers (VUIDs) (i.e., numbers assigned to medications) – which impacted the ability to perform accurate automated checks to ensure newly prescribed medications were compatible with the medications and allergies already documented in the patient’s record, regardless of the facility or electronic health record instance where those were documented. This made it so VA couldn’t automatically check for drug interactions or allergies when patients at these five facilities went to other VA facilities.

The VA claims that to date, there has been no patient harm identified due to this issue. This issue has been fixed for all new medications prescribed since April 2023, and all historical medications will be corrected by the end of August 2024. The VA claims that many medications have already been updated, and VA providers are conducting manual interaction checks as needed to ensure patient safety until the issue has been fully resolved.

Out of an abundance of caution, the VA is communicating with VA patients at the affected facilities to encourage them to bring their medications, or medication lists, to all in-person and virtual appointments. The VA is also encouraging veterans to alert their providers if they visit more than one VA facility, have received care through a non-VA facility, or if they have a specific drug allergy. These steps are to support quality care so that VA providers can conduct manual order checks as needed. As always, veterans can call their local VA Medical Center with any questions or concerns.


Change Healthcare Cyber Incident
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to actively monitor the nationwide outages caused by the cybersecurity incident impacting Change Healthcare (CHC). Immediately upon notification, VA took swift action to disconnect from all known systems with CHC. An in-depth analysis by VA’s Cybersecurity Operations Center has confirmed no malicious activity or irregularities are present on any VA systems.

VA remains concerned about the status of VA patient data that may have been included in any exfiltrated or accessed files. VA has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other government agencies to continue to encourage CHC to be transparent with their customers regarding the status of any data that was adversely impacted by this event. A comprehensive review of any potentially exchanged data and agreements that were in place is underway by VA’s Data Breach Core Team. If Veteran data is found to have been included in any of the impacted files, VA will move swiftly to contain, identify, and work with our Business Associates to address any mitigative steps that will be taken to provide full support to all impacted Veterans. VA is committed to full transparency as we work with our VSO’s, Congress, and other stakeholders to ensure they are fully informed of all actions that will be taken.


Vietnam Veterans Day
On March 29, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. The proclamation called “upon all Americans to observe this day with the appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the …Vietnam War.” On that day in 1973, the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam.

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