VA improves access to care, reduces wait times for new patient appointments in primary and mental health care

VA improves access to care, reduces wait times for new patient appointments in primary and mental health care

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced improved wait times for new patient appointments in primary care and mental health care across the VA health-care system.

For new patients in April 2024, there was an 11% decrease in average wait times for VA primary care and a 7% decrease in average mental health wait times compared to same time last year. These improved wait times come at a time when VA is delivering more care to more veterans than ever before. Compared to the same time period last year (which was a record-breaking year for appointments), VA completed 11% more new patient appointments – including nearly 13% more new patient mental health appointments.

Veteran trust in VA outpatient care is currently at 91.8% – an all-time high – and more than 400,000 veterans have enrolled in VA care over the past year, which is a 30% increase over last year. Additionally, VA has recently outperformed non-VA care in peer reviewed studieshospital ratings, and patient satisfaction surveys.

“We’re reducing wait times for patients, even at a time when we’re delivering more care to more veterans than ever before,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal, M.D. “VA is the only national health care institution in America that publishes its wait times, and we do so to ensure we are fully transparent with veterans and earn their trust. A shorter wait time for care makes a difference in a veteran’s life, and we will continue to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce wait times even further.”  

These reduced wait times show continued improvement after VA’s recent Access Sprints – a nationwide effort to offer more night clinics, weekend clinics, and appointment slots in daily clinic schedules. Additional results from the access sprints include (all data from October 2023 to February 2024):

·         VA completed approximately 25,000 more new patient appointments, an increase of 11% compared to the same period last year;

·         81% of VA medical centers saw more new patients than the same period last year;

·         12% fewer new patients are waiting more than 20 or 28 days for an appointment; and

·         There was a 19% decrease in the number of new patients waiting for longer than 20 days to receive primary care and a 9% decrease in the number of new patients waiting longer than 20 days for mental health care.

As VA works to improve access to care, it is also ensuring the care veterans receive is high quality through continuous monitoring and improvement efforts. Last year’s first-time-ever inclusion of VA facilities in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) annual Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings saw 67% of VA hospitals receiving 4 or 5 stars, compared to only 41% of non-VA hospitals.

VA’s recent increases in health-care enrollment have been made possible by the bipartisan PACT Act — signed into law by President Biden as a part of his Unity Agenda for the nation – which has allowed VA to expand VA health care and benefits to millions of veterans. As a part of implementing this law, VA recently expanded health care eligibility for millions of veterans nationwide – years earlier than called for by the law. As of March 5, 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. 

VA is also conducting the most aggressive outreach campaign in its history, including hosting over 2,600 events since the enactment of the PACT Act, launching a nationwide advertising campaign, using public service announcements, and — for the first time ever — sending text messages to veterans encouraging them to enroll in VA health care. VA is continuing these vigorous outreach efforts, with more than 550 in-person events already scheduled for this year. VA encourages all veterans, family members, caregivers, and survivors to learn more about VA and apply for their world-class health care and earned benefits today.

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