As a legislator, I am committed to ensuring that government works effectively and efficiently for all Minnesotans. As a veteran and an American, I am dedicated to making sure our service men and women are cared for after they return home.
That is why I am deeply concerned about a new policy with the federal Veterans Health Administration that has turned a five day order turnaround for prosthetics and other much needed medical equipment for veterans into a cumbersome process that can take months to resolve.
As citizens, we should be outraged that veterans who sacrificed so much for our freedoms are not receiving the care they need because of burdensome government regulations.
The problem comes from the new purchasing power restrictions on the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS), limiting their authority to purchase prosthetics that cost $3000 or less.
In 1999, PSAS trained and certified Purchasing Agents who were allowed to work directly with patients and order needed prosthetics for veterans without having to hand off the process to third party contractors. This system allowed Purchasing Agents to act as a liaison and point of contact for all prosthetic prescriptions throughout a veteran’s life.
Not only was the process more direct and without unnecessary middle men, but the initial turn around on prescriptions was just five days. The delivery of care under this system was simple, fast and effective, too often a rarity when it comes to government services.
However, due to concerns by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about the VA’s overly broad definition of prosthetics and purchasing abuse, the process of going directly through Purchasing Agents was recently altered.
There are now over twenty different Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) acting as contracting offices who must process the most critical prosthetics needed by veterans, those over $3,000.This new process has meant headaches and hassles for veterans, who can now wait months for critical medical equipment.
The Minneapolis VA Hospital has been aggressive about making the transition to this new, more cumbersome process as seamless as possible, but there is still a strong concern that patient care will be compromised under this new system.
In late June, I wrote a letter to each member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation about this issue, and suggested a solution.
I believe the easiest fix to this problem that would address concerns of abuse and create maximum efficiency would be to increase the micro-purchasing threshold to $10,000. This will cover the majority of the items currently being handed off to contracting with the exception of the most expensive artificial limbs, vehicle conversions or advanced technology appliances.
To date, I have only heard back from the offices of Congresswoman Bachmann, Congressman Walz and Senator Klobuchar saying they will look into the issue further.
With a national scandal already focusing on the VA and poor veteran care, this is a solution that will work to help our most seriously injured vets receive the care they need in a timely manner.
As a nation, our reputation is reflected in how we care for our veterans, and government at all levels should look for ways to get real care to those brave men and women who need it most in an effective and efficient manner.