WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is raising concerns over what the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is doing to ensure quality care for veterans using an eye care screening program that is intended to expand eye care for veterans—particularly in rural areas. However, the St. Louis-based American Optometric Association stated that patients participating in the program “may receive substandard diagnoses and care.” McCaskill’s inquiry comes as additional VA facilities across the country, including the St. Joseph Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, begin implementing the program.
“When the largest optometric association says that an eye exam screening might be ‘substandard,’ that’s cause for serious concern,” McCaskill said. “Missouri’s veterans deserve nothing less than top-quality healthcare, and I want to ensure that’s what veterans participating in this program are getting.”
The VA started to use the Technology-Based Eye Care Services program in 2015 in order to improve veterans’ eye care, especially in more rural areas. The Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in St. Joseph, MO is in the process of implementing the program, but the St. Louis-based American Optometric Association has raised concerns over the experimental nature of the program, the qualifications of the people reviewing the eye exams, and how the technology compares to a standard comprehensive eye exam. The American Optometric Association stated that “veterans being offered these [Technology-Based Eye Care Services] screenings may receive substandard diagnoses and care, and may mistakenly assume that they have received a comprehensive eye examination.”
McCaskill is calling for answers from the VA “in order to better understand the use and efficacy of the [Technology-Based Eye Care services] program and how it impacts rural veterans and the care they receive.” She is seeking details about where the program is in place in Missouri and nationwide, what the VA will do to evaluate the qualifications and training of those reviewing patients’ exams, and whether quality control measures are in place to ensure correct diagnoses and treatment. McCaskill also asked if the VA has evaluated whether this program serves more veterans or provides a higher level of service than existing eye care options.
The daughter of a World War II veteran, McCaskill has a long history of standing up for veterans. She is seeking answers from the VA after a report finding that thousands of servicemembers with PTSD or other mental health conditions who received “other than honorable” discharges were potentially barred from receiving mental healthcare and other benefits. Following issues with construction at VA facilities in Missouri, McCaskill called for answers on what the agency’s Inspector General is doing to improve oversight over major construction projects.
Aiming to continue improvements to the quality of customer service at statewide VA facilities, McCaskill created a “secret-shopper program,” the Veterans’ Customer Satisfaction Program, which allows veterans to share timely, confidential feedback about their VA health care visits, and helps provide oversight and accountability for VA health care facilities. The program is now active in five regions: St. Louis; Kansas City; Columbia; Poplar Bluff; Southwest Missouri (Fayetteville). In 2016, following advocacy from McCaskill and more than one-thousand rural veterans in Missouri, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would expand the hours of operation at the Salem Veterans Clinic to be open Monday through Friday.
Read McCaskill’s letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs HERE.