The VA is facing several challenges to meet the growing demand for long-term care for veterans, GAO has said, including workforce shortages, a general lack of providers particularly in rural areas, and difficulty meeting needs for specialty care.
“VA projects demand for long-term care will continue to increase, driven in part by growing numbers of aging veterans and veterans with service-connected disabilities. Expenditures for long-term care are projected to double by 2037” to $14.3 billion annually, a report said. Costs already have increased by a third just since 2014.
The VA provides institutional care through community living centers that it owns and operates, publicly or privately owned community nursing homes under contract, and through state-owned and-operated homes. The VA also provides non-institutional care through eight different programs.
Shortages of VA staff in occupations such as nursing assistants, home health aides and health technicians already are contributing to wait lists for long-term care programs, and a population shift in veterans has left the VA with “too many long-term care beds in the Northeast and too few in the South.”
Further, there is a general shortage of facilities equipped to handle certain needs especially common among veterans such as spinal cord injuries, it said.
The report said that the VA has been working on strategies to meet the growing demand, such as to expand access to non-institutional programs to prevent or delay the need for more expensive nursing home care and to rely more on remote telehealth services.
However, in general the VA “has not established measurable goals for these efforts, such as specific staffing targets for programs with waitlists or specific targets for providing telehealth to veterans in rural areas,” GAO said.