VA needs to spend $14B annually to keep up with veteran demand for long-term care, report says

Abbie Bennett
February 20, 2020 - 12:57 pm

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Veterans increasingly need long-term care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and VA may struggle to meet that demand, a recent watchdog report shows.

Disabled veterans rely on VA long-term care for everything from help around the house to round-the-clock care, including help eating or bathing. 

Demand for this type of care increased by about 14 percent in fiscal years 2014-18 and spending for that care jumped 33 percent.

VA projects that demand will continue to increase and spending could double by 2037. 

But according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report this week, VA faces multiple challenges in meeting the needs of those veterans -- finding enough staff, providing care to veterans in more rural or remote areas and providing specialty care. 

VA provides or purchases long-term care for disabled veterans through 14 programs in nursing homes or in veterans’ own homes. 

The number of veterans receiving this care is increasing every year. From 2014 to 2018, the number grew to 530,327 veterans and spending jumped from $6.8 billion to $9.1 billion. 

As the veteran population ages and the number with service-connected disabilities increases, spending will rise, according to VA. To cut costs, VA plans to expand veterans’ access to noninstitutional programs, or allow more care at home, instead of in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. 

While VA’s Geriatrics and Extended Care office has recognized the mounting challenges, it has yet to establish measurable goals for its efforts to address them, according to GAO. 

VA’s plans so far include focusing on hiring for programs that already have waitlists and providing telehealth to veterans in rural areas.

“Without measurable goals, VA is limited in its ability to address the challenges it faces meeting veterans' long-term care needs,” the GAO report reads. 

VA leaders agreed with GAO’s recommendations to set goals and defined timelines to meet the challenges of providing more long-term care and expected to have a plan in place by the end of June. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.

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