(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

May 29, 2017

Today on Memorial Day most people will be out at BBQ’s and enjoying the long weekend off. But for me as a Veteran, I felt today was the day I needed to speak out about the VA. Today was the day I needed to come forward and talk about another VA scandal. After it was discovered that over 258,000 Veterans died while waiting for care on fabricated waiting lists, Congress took action and most people thought the problems were resolved. But with the solution came new problems and a new scandal.

The VA was now under intense pressure to reduce the long waiting lists and to treat Veterans under new laws that allowed Veterans to seek outside medical care if the VA could not or would not treat them within 30 days. The VA discovered local private doctors, Hospitals and emergency rooms were a great way to dump Veterans off those long waiting lists in need of medical care. But in order to keep VA costs down, they took advantage of laws requiring private Hospitals and doctors to sue for unpaid medical bills in Federal Court. With an average medical bill of $3,500, the cost to sue in Federal Court is prohibitive.

As a disabled Veteran, I get most of my healthcare needs handled by the VA, theoretically. After suffering a medical emergency last August, I was forced to visit a local private hospital’s emergency room. After my hospital stay and surgery, I filed a claim right away with the VA outside care division to pay the hospital and doctors’ bills. And that’s when I learned about this VA scandal.  After I mailed the claim to the VA by certified mail three times, they claimed they never got it. Then the VA repeatedly tried to deny my claim for failing to file within 90 days. The VA also denied claims by the emergency room doctors, the hospital and the surgeon also after they sent in their claims 3 or 4 times. The VA tried claiming the 90 day time limit to file claims had expired to pay those bills as well and demanded proof that we had mailed in the bills. When I called the VA to discuss the bills I was often forced to wait on hold for an hour or more only to speak with a Burger Flipper with no idea what the issue was or how to solve it. I went down to my local VA clinic and tried to get more information and help, and again the people there were untrained and unhelpful. They couldn’t even find my file on their computer system. So having to deal with this mess for seven plus months, I had an opportunity to speak with many medical billing services and doctors’ offices; and they all had the same stories. The VA was super hard to get medical bills paid and the VA often didn’t pay. According to the billing people, the VA was worse than any insurance company and worse than Medicaid.

When I was in the emergency room at the private hospital there was another Veteran in there who had called the VA complaining of chest pains and left on hold for over an hour. He finally gave up on the VA and went to the local emergency room at a private hospital.

The failure of the VA to pay medical bills at private hospitals and doctors’ offices is also resulting in Veterans’ credit damaged by ensuing collections actions.

After speaking with several doctors’ offices, hospital billing staff and medical billing companies, there emerged a pattern. It appears Southern Nevada VA is systematically patient dumping Veterans into local hospital emergency rooms, and then refusing to pay the bills, sticking veterans and ultimately private hospitals and doctors with the tab. The practice appears to be widespread across the valley and appears to be institutionally supported by the VA.

Major reforms are necessary to protect local hospitals and doctors from bearing the costly burden thrust on them by the VA. Emergency rooms are required by law to care for sick patients. And Healthcare providers cannot sue the VA for unpaid medical bills in state or local courts. So we need to change the law so local state courts have jurisdiction over unpaid VA medical bills. Many claims would fall into small claims jurisdiction of $10,000 or less and could easily speed up the reimbursement process for Healthcare providers. made numerous calls to the Director of Southern Nevada VA, Peggy Kearns, seeking comment but she refused to even take our calls.

Rob Lauer

Political Reporter


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