The VA has announced a new plan to cut its $8.5 billion backlog of applications to nearly a third of what it needs, while reducing wait times and creating new opportunities for veterans to apply for jobs.
The announcement on Thursday was made by VA Secretary David Shulkin at a news conference in the Department of Veterans Affairs office building in Washington, D.C. The VA also announced a plan to begin the process of closing some of its backlogged hospitals, as well as expand its health care network.
“As we work to restore the VA to health, we must also find new ways to ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve,” Shulkins said.
The new plan calls for the VA and private contractors to “accelerate” the review process to speed up the approval of applications and to cut the backlog to “the bare minimum.”
That’s an “inclusive” approach, which is meant to reduce wait times while keeping veterans out of the system.
VA officials said the new plan will reduce the average wait time for a veteran’s application to four weeks and to one day.
“We have been working to reduce the backlog of pending applications and we will continue to do so as long as it is a cost-effective solution for VA,” Sholkins said during the news conference.
The department has struggled with the backlog since it was established in 1996.
The backlog has been growing, particularly in recent years as new veterans and their families join the VA system.
In 2016, it was over 11 million, with more than a million veterans in the system at the end of May.
The plan announced Thursday requires the VA, in addition to contracting with contractors, to start the process to close some of the remaining hospitals in its backlog.
The hospitals in question are located in Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Washington, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee.
The move is designed to ease the burden of the backlog on veterans.
“Veterans deserve access to care at VA facilities where they can receive the quality care they need,” Shuler said.
“In the meantime, we will take every opportunity to close these facilities.”
The VA previously announced a reduction in wait times for veterans.
On Tuesday, the agency announced a “significant” decrease in wait time to receive health care.
But Shulysays announcement on Wednesday said that the VA would begin the elimination of some hospitals and to create new ones.
“This is an inclusive approach that helps ensure VA’s most vulnerable veterans get the care and support they need, while allowing VA to improve the quality of care at our health care facilities,” Shulsays office said.
Shulks plans to announce an update on the plan on Friday.
The agency also announced it will also start the slow-track process of applying for job openings at some of those hospitals.
Those jobs will be available in phases, and veterans who are eligible will be able to apply at the same time.