Veterans Health Care Delivery: Biggest Problems for Facilities

Solving Common Problems with Veterans Health Care

One of the country’s largest healthcare systems, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides care for more than nine million individuals across the United States. However, severe staffing shortages and other unique care challenges create some of the most pressing problems within veteran health today.

Amid stringent regulations and staffing gaps, explore the most critical problems impacting veteran care delivery today. Plus, transformative solutions for facilities to overcome the surging demand for veteran health.

Background on America’s ‘Largest Integrated Healthcare System’

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the system set up to provide veteran healthcare is the “largest integrated healthcare system” in the United States. Managed by the VHA, the system provides care to more than 9 million enrolled veterans. Yet, as advocates have pointed out, that’s only half of the actual number of U.S. veterans.

In addition to the vast size of its patient population, the VA must also provide a comprehensive range of services. Most enrolled veterans can receive basic medical benefits like preventive and diagnostic care. Many others qualify for both inpatient and outpatient specialty services, such as substance abuse treatment.

Unique Problems with Veteran Health Care Delivery

In addition to comprising one of the largest populations in the country, veterans are a special category of patients with their own unique needs. Exceptionally diverse, the veteran community also experiences many conditions at higher rates than the general population, especially mental health disorders like PTSD (which is as much as 16% higher).  

In addition, reports have long shown that suicide rates among veterans are much higher than the general public. The pandemic only intensified that trend, with one report showing a 25% increase in 2020 alone.

Veterans as a Group Experiencing Social Disparities

Veterans also frequently struggle to access and sometimes understand the services available to them. The VA’s Transition Assistance Program to address the issue, with some success. Yet when surveyed, many veterans say they’re not receiving the full range of benefits to which they’re entitled.

As a result, veterans are commonly considered a social disparity — in other words, in particular need of assistance accessing care. That’s especially true for those who live in rural areas, currently estimated at about 4.7 million veterans.

Staffing Challenges Facing Veteran Care

In addition to these inherent problems in veterans health care delivery, many VA facilities also lack the resources they need to provide the necessary care to enrolled veterans. Even amid a surge in funding to support expanded services, many VA facilities struggle to stay fully staffed with both clinical and administrative workers.

A 2022 report from the VHA’s inspector general office found that the vacancy rate for licensed professional mental health counselors (LPMHCs) was 23% within the VA network. As a result, it’s been estimated that less than half of veterans receive the mental health services they need. On top of that, a whopping 91% of facilities reported experiencing “severe shortages” for nurses.

Compounding the issue is a convergence of a number of historic factors that includes:

  • Covid-related shortages: After years of declines in reported shortages before the pandemic, the 2022 report found that “severe staffing shortages” increased by 22% from 2021 to 2022.
  • Surging demand: As awareness of mental health conditions grow — and more veterans are assisted in accessing care — the system struggles to adapt to the surge in utilization.
  • Growing pains. Amid this demand, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the VHA is still working to update the way it conducts human resources to align with modern standards.
  • “Record-high turnover.” Just like the rest of the healthcare industry, the VHA has seen “record-high turnover” among its workforce in the last few years according to the 2022 report.
  • New regulations. While legislation seeks to expand access to care, the resulting rules often place new burdens on a healthcare network that’s already struggling to stay fully staffed.

How to Solve Common Problems with Veterans Health Care Delivery

At best, the result of these shortages is long lines at facilities and postponed appointments. At worst, it means a failure to provide potentially life-saving care. But, while there are no single, one-size-fits-all solutions here, there are steps that VA healthcare providers can take to overcome these most basic problems with veterans health care delivery.

For instance, advocates for veterans affairs commonly cite the need to improve mental health services and community care provisions to help support underserved areas. They also point to the need to shorten wait times and expand access by better explaining benefits before service members exit military service. And many stress the need to create “well-defined initiatives” to prevent suicide.

Technology can help providers meet some of these goals. For instance, expanding access to remote-based care could help those in rural communities see specialists who otherwise would be unavailable to them. In addition, many more resources are available to providers than before. For instance, including the recent 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which can serve as a valuable tool for one of the most urgent challenges in veteran care.

Addressing Staffing Shortages in VA Healthcare

Yet the basis for most of these solutions ultimately comes back to staffing, which isn’t as easy to solve for many providers — especially those serving rural communities. But difficult as their situation may seem, these facilities can help ease the difficulties by partnering with a healthcare workforce specialist that can connect them with a variety of options, including:

  • Reducing wait times by offering contingency staffing
  • Providing expanded access to psychiatrists, mental health nurses, and other qualified mental healthcare professionals
  • Providing expanded access to specialists in telehealth technology and home health to serve more enrolled veterans
  • Providing expanded access to a robust network of highly skilled physical therapists, occupational therapists, medical techs and other necessary support staff
  • Supporting the GAO’s mandate for increased community care professionals with social workers and other specialized labor

Solve Problems with Veterans Health Care Delivery with CareerStaff

Here at CareerStaff Unlimited, we’re proud to offer the specialized healthcare staffing services you need to serve a wide variety of patient population, including veteran care.

Contact us today to learn how to reduce wait times and ensure more reliable access to specialized care with our network of Joint Commission-Certified solutions. Or, click here to request staffing now.