Local VA spending $70M to send vets to private docs

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 4-Sep-2014

The Veterans Administration hospital predicts it will spend $70-million dollars locally this fiscal year to send patients it can't treat in a timely manner to private healthcare providers in North Texas.

DALLAS – The Veterans Administration hospital predicts it will spend $70-million dollars locally this fiscal year to send patients it can't treat in a timely manner to private healthcare providers in North Texas.

Ralph Taylor, a U.S. Navy veteran, is one of them. He went to the VA this summer for vision problems.

"I figured it was deteriorating," said Taylor, 70. "My right eye, I was closing it – a lot, to watch TV."

But he never expected to get treatment at an Uptown clinic.

Dallas' VA hospital sent him to Key-Whitman Eye Center for cataract surgery rather than make him wait in line for weeks.

Taylor is one of dozens of veterans that this Key-Whitman clinic recently began treating.

"I would bet you over the last month and a half to two months, maybe over 200, I would think," said Dr. Jeffrey Whitman, Key-Whitman Eye Center.

Dr. Whitman said the VA asked him for help to reduce its backlog of patients in North Texas.

Dr. Jeffrey Whitman of Key-Whitman Eye Center said his Uptown Dallas clinic has treated about 200 veterans referred to him by Dallas' VA Hospital. His practice is one of about three dozen private healthcare providers the VA is contracting with as it tries to reduce its backlog of patients.(Photo: Josh Stephen, WFAA)

"I think we're chipping away," he explained. "There are a lot of veterans out there. You know, we're starting to take care of the problem. Eventually, you can get through the backlog."

Key-Whitman is one of three dozen private providers in Dallas – Fort Worth currently treating veterans.

The VA predicts it will spend $70-million this fiscal year to send veterans to private doctors in North Texas.

"VA North Texas is committed to partnering with more community providers in North Texas to ensure our Veterans receive timely and high quality care they deserve where VA cannot meet the demand," the VA said in a statement to News 8.

It added that it has always been able to send its patients to private doctors but recently increased the practice.

In the first quarter of the year, the VA said it made 3,443 private doctor visits for veterans.

Amanda Miller examines Ralph Taylor, 70, at Key-Whitman Eye Center. Dallas' VA Hospital sent him to this private practice because it had a backlog of patients.(Photo: Josh Stephen, WFAA)

But in the last three months, the VA said it almost tripled that number and scheduled 10,104 appointments at private healthcare providers.

This effort appears to be working. Since June, the VA in Dallas said it has slowly reduced its wait times from up to 30-days down to 23 and 25 days respectively for primary and specialty care appointments.

The average wait time for mental health appointments has increased slightly during that same time from 10 to 11 days.

Last year, there were 1.4-million outpatient visits in the VA North Texas Health Care System.

"Our ultimate goal is to schedule Veterans within 30 days of their desired date," the VA said. If it can't get meet its own deadline, the VA said, it will find private providers to see the veterans.

Mr. Taylor arrived at Key-Whitman with 20/60 vision.

Since June he has gotten two new lenses with cataract surgery.

"Once I had the surgery here I could step outside and it was 20/20," Taylor said.

Dr. Whitman says his relationship with the VA is only temporary now but with a growing population of veterans he and his new patients hope it becomes a permanent partnership.

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