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Improving health care options for veterans

  • MATTOCKS



For the Recorder
Friday, July 13, 2018

LEEDS — A Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System doctor has received a $1.1 million research grant aimed at improving the relationship between the VA and outside health care providers in order to better serve veterans.

Kristin Mattocks, the VA’s associate chief of staff for research and education in Leeds, will lead the research effort to look at the partnership between community health providers and the VA to provide veterans with care not offered at their local VAs. The grant is one of three from VA Health Services Research and Development to examine provider networks under the Veterans Choice Program.

“What we are hoping with this grant is that veterans will be able to go into the community and get care in a much more seamless way,” Mattocks said.

Part of that improvement in care will include making sure veterans’ information is available to community providers so their treatment can be what it should be as well as improving communication between the health care providers, Mattocks explained.

“The VA has pretty much always, with a few exceptions, provided all of the care within the VA, but in 2014 there was some legislation passed called the Veterans Choice Act,” Mattocks explained. “The problem with that is that the VA knew very little about those (outside) providers and the other problem is that there weren’t enough community providers who had signed up under Veterans Choice Program.”

The Veterans Choice Program began with bipartisan support following scandals about manipulated wait times at Veterans Affairs centers nationwide. The program allows veterans to receive care from medical providers and facilities outside of the VA, while still having the care paid for by the VA. Veterans are able to use the choice program if they need an appointment for a specific type of care not provided by the VA or if it is unable to provide it in a timely manner, or if the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to.

Since its implementation, the program has faced issues with not having enough outside providers to meet the need, communication issues between the VA as well as veterans being billed for care that is covered by the program.

The three-year grant will be used to look at network adequacy — making sure there are enough health care providers in communities to meet the needs of veterans. Researchers will also use the grant to explore the relationships the VA has with community providers.

“I think that what we anticipate is for the VA to develop more sophisticated care coordinated programs. We don’t want veterans to go out and get care in the community without knowing that the VA is coordinating that care,” Mattocks said. “There has been basically no research done that looks at this interplay between VA and community providers. We hope to develop a best practices — how we can work with facilities across the country to improve those providers.”