USDS: VA software to determine veterans' eligibility for programs 'flawed'

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' new program to expand veterans' access to primary care could potentially limit individuals' appointment times due to a "flawed" software tool, according to a United States Digital Service report.

The new software tool, developed by AbleVets, could increase individual appointments at VA facilities by five to 10 minutes each day, due to glitches like generating errors or operating slowly. The delays could result in a loss of an estimated three veteran visits each day per clinic, causing the VA's nationwide capacity to decrease by approximately 75,000 appointments daily, according to the report.

The Mission Act, which Congress passed in June 2018, allows veterans to see private physicians for primary or mental care if they live up to 30 minutes away from a VA facility or face up to a 20-day waiting period to receive care.

The tool, which also is designed to determine veterans' eligibility to enroll in the program, analyzes data-driven metrics such as drive time, VA provider wait time and availability of VA services. However, the law does not specify the level of detail the VA uses to calculate appropriate drive and wait times, according to the report.

"Calculating drive time depends on an information system that uses mapping data of roadways, speed limits and other metadata to compute an optimal route and estimate the time required," the USDS wrote in the report. "Differences in specific technical implementations for gathering this type of data will likely result in different estimates… These nuanced details can affect whether or not the veteran is eligible for community care and may lead to the public perception that the criteria are arbitrary, inconsistent or unfair."

Additionally, the tool would require pulling data from six separate VA systems, which the department will not be able to complete before the program's expected launch in June, report authors wrote.

A VA spokesperson shared the following statement with Becker's via email:

"VA engaged USDS for an independent review of certain information technology activities. We welcome the completion of USDS' final report, which remains a work in progress. VA doesn't typically comment on or confirm the legitimacy of purportedly leaked draft reports."

To access the full report, click here.

Editor's note: This article was updated March 20 at 8:10 a.m. to include additional information from the VA.

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