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Opening Statement of Hon. Ginny Brown-Waite, Ranking Republican Member, Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

Mr. Chairman,

I thank you and Ranking Member Miller, along with the rest of the members of the Subcommittee on Health for joining us in this important hearing on outpatient waiting times at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As of October 2007, there were 7.9 million veterans enrolled in the VA Healthcare system. 

And today there are 153 VA Medical Centers and 724 Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) available to serve the needs of these veterans. 

When a veteran or physician calls to schedule an appointment in one of these clinics, they should be able to receive an appointment that is timely and appropriate to the medical needs of the veteran.

I am looking forward to hearing from our first panel of witnesses today on how they feel outpatient waiting times at the VA has affected them, as well as any possible solutions they can offer. 

I am also interested in hearing from the VA Office of the Inspector General on their perspective on the waiting times issue. 

Finally, I expect to hear from the VA as to how they monitor waiting times, and what steps they are taking to improve the timeliness of services provided to our veterans.

On January 4, 2007, I introduced H.R. 92, the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act, which would make the standard for a veteran seeking primary care from the Department of Veterans Affairs 30 days from the date the veteran contacts the Department. 

Unfortunately, this bill is needed because current practices do not meet that goal. 

I monitor data for VISN 8 from the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine the time new patients and existing patients wait to receive an appointment. 

While established patients wait less than 15 days for an appointment, the numbers for new patients are much higher. 

What I also found interesting in looking over the data is that there appeared to be a decrease in the waiting times at the major medical facilities; however, at the CBOC level, waiting times have increased.

In the 3rd quarter of FY 2007, new patients had to wait an average of 45-50 days to receive an appointment at a VA CBOC, while new patients waited an average of 22-25 days to receive an appointment at the VA Medical Centers. 

This is simply not acceptable. 

I am also curious as to the dramatic decrease in waiting times at the VA Medical Centers in VISN 8. 

I question whether patients are being redirected to the CBOCs to reduce waiting times at the Medical Centers.   

If veterans are having problems receiving care within 30 days, then Congress needs to allow them to look for an alternative.   

My bill is NOT a scheme to move the VA toward privatization; it simply ensures veterans receive care in a timely manner. 

VA can and does provide a high level of care to all the veterans that are enrolled in the system; however, if a veteran cannot be seen by a physician then what good does that do?  

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Web site states that the goal of the VA is “to provide excellence in patient care, veterans’ benefits and customer satisfaction.”

This hearing today is to determine whether the VA is meeting that goal with timely access to care. 

As everyone here knows, this issue is tremendously important to every American. 

Our veterans did not wait to answer the call to duty. 

They answered their nation’s call, and took up arms to protect our freedom. 

They served and many returned to us injured and in need of care. 

I talk with the veterans from my district on a daily basis about the issues they have with the VA, and getting in to see a doctor in a timely fashion is at the top of their list. 

And the care of our nation’s veterans should not be a political issue. 

Instead, Congress should work together to improve veterans healthcare so that it becomes the model of good governance. 

Thank you again Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the balance of my time.