Will the cash from the VA healthcare overhaul help?

U.S. Military veteran and amputee Lloyd Epps walks after doctors serviced his prosthetic leg at the Veterans Administration (VA), hospital on January 29, 2014 in Manhattan, New York City.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation that would pump just under $17 billion into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ struggling healthcare system.

The agency came under fire earlier this year over unacceptable treatment delays and after staff manipulated patient wait lists. The money from this legislation would go toward hiring staff — nurses and doctors — and to allow some veterans to get care outside the VA system.

It's a sign Congress wants veterans to get care, pronto.

That’s why the feds will cover private doctor visits for veterans who either live 40 miles from a VA medical center or have waited more than 30 days for a visit. But Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Garry Augustine says vets, by and large, like what they get at the VA.

“The VA knows how to treat the post-traumatic stress. The different type of spinal cord injuries. Those are done better in the VA than any place else,” he says.

Surveys dating back a decade concur. They show vets are more satisfied with the care they receive at the VA than patients are with what they get in private sector hospitals.

Former VA administrator Dr. William Duncan says the challenge is providing timely care and keeping vets tethered to the VA. He knows peeling people away – even temporarily – means connecting them to other providers who may even be less functional.

“There’s a lot of doctor’s offices that are not electronic. It depends on paper. Paper gets lost. It’s a mess,” he says.

Duncan hopes the money to hire more doctors and nurses will add capacity to the VA, but he warns this money will only be well spent if the VA can build smart systems to track and treat their patients, too.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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