Proposed VA Rule Change Could Decrease Wait Times For Patient Care

Jul 12, 2016

Over half a million veterans are currently facing wait times of more than 30 days to receive care from the VA system. In one attempt to address the problem, the Department of Veterans Affairs has suggested allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients throughout the system.

Currently, nurse practitioners only have full-practice authority in 21 states and the District of Columbia, but the proposal would grant practitioners within the VA system that authority nationwide.

The proposal isn’t a panacea, but Cindy Cooke, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, said it’s a no-cost no-risk solution to addressing the backlog of patients.  

“The VA has been looking at multiple ways to ameliorate the wait time,” Cooke said. “This is one of the solutions they have come up with.”

She said there more veterans in the system than providers, which has led to the long wait times.

“We’ve been at war for a very long period of time, which has increased the number of veterans dramatically,” Cooke said. “The number is just staggering.”

In this climate, Cooke said allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients will help.

“It’s so important to be able to do that,” Cooke said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach that really needs to happen.”

Cooke said there are 220,000 licensed nurse practitioners nationwide, and 4,800 are already working within the VA system.

“This would standardize the care across VA facilities regardless of where they’re geographically located,” Cooke said.

The vast majority are trained as family nurse practitioners, according to Cooke. They can perform clinical assessments, order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses and initiate prescribed medication plans and treatment plans.

She said nurse practitioners carried out 800 million patient visits last year, and they want to provide that same service for all veterans.

“We are definitely out there on the front lines of health care and are providing health care each and every day,” Cooke said.

Cooke said many veterans groups have come out in support of the proposed rule. The public comment period for the new rule closes on July 25. Until then, comments can be submitted at veteransdeservecare.org.

Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

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