FOIA Update
April 30, 2024

WASHINGTON – A VA Red Team report obtained by Empower Oversight on the community care options for veterans shows vets’ growing desire to utilize health care out of the VA system.

The report, created by health care experts who were convened by the VA to study the community care program, explains why whistleblowers have come forward with their concerns that the VA may be skirting congressional intent as the agency attempts to navigate the reality that many veterans want and need to go outside the VA to obtain treatment.

The report reiterates what whistleblowers have been telling Empower: that the VA wants to cut community care spending, despite the clear popularity of the program. The report acknowledges: “[T]he [Veterans Community Care Program] has insufficient information to know whether referrals to community providers will result in the veteran receiving either the soonest or the best care[.]” Nevertheless, the report’s recommendations include:

  • Claiming reductions in wait and drive times for appointments at VA facilities by including the availability of VA telehealth options;
  • Changing policies to make veterans’ personal health insurance the primary payer for emergency care and the VA a secondary payer
  • Developing messaging to convince veterans the VA’s services are superior to community options.
  • Cutting community care by mitigating spending on areas such as Emergency Care, Mental Health, Cardiology and Oncology; and.
  • Forcing veterans to return prematurely from community care to VA facilities through repatriation.

The report revealed that the primary reasons for veterans seeking specialty care in the community were:

  • Drive time: 50%
  • Services unavailable: 26%
  • Wait time: 5%

Despite these reasons causing veterans to seek community care outside the VA system, the Red Team report reveals that the VA’s Center for Care and Payment Innovation “does not appear to be actively involved in testing new models of care that could make VHA direct care services more accessible or that could more cost-effectively utilize community care providers.”

“The Red Team report makes it clear that there are a number of areas where the VA can improve its health care so veterans actually want to come back into its health system. Better care will naturally help bring veterans back into the VA health services, not talking points about how the VA knows better than veterans,” said Empower Oversight president Tristan Leavitt.

Empower Oversight has previously released video of separate town hall meetings with VA employees showing VA officials expressing a clear commitment to avoid giving veterans the opportunity for community care, despite congressional intent after unacceptable wait times for care in the Veterans Affairs Health Care system.

A copy of the Red Team report can be found here.

The full August 31, 2023, town-hall meeting can be found here.

The 2-minute video from an August 29, 2023 videoconference town hall can be found here.

The McDonough audio on community care can be found here.

Empower Oversight’s Jan. 18, 2024, letter to McDonough can be found here.