Community-based Primary Care Physicians Can Help Resolve VA Health System Backlog

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


LEAWOOD, Kan. — Veterans could get the primary medical care they need if community-based family physicians could step into the breach and break the current appointment backlog, according to a letter sent to President Obama and Congressional leadership today.

The letter, sent by Jeff Cain, MD, board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, notes Veterans Administration and media reports point to a serious internal primary care physician shortage within the VA health system. The solution lies in expanding the number of primary care physicians who can provide care to veterans, Cain wrote.

Civilian family physicians currently provide care to veterans who live in the community and those who currently have coverage through TriCare, the civilian health plan for military personnel, retirees and their dependents. Interactions between the community physicians and VA health facilities are complicated, contributing to the backlog within the VA system that veterans experience. The AAFP has called on the VA to change its policies and expand veterans’ access to civilian health care for several years.

“Our recommendations would help in two ways,” Cain said. “They would increase the number of family physicians who could provide care to veterans in the community. And in doing that, they would address the backlog of veterans who need access to care. These provisions would enable them to get the right labs at the right referral at the right time.”

Resolving the VA physician workforce will require both time and policy changes, Cain said, but that reality shouldn’t delay providing care to veterans.

“We should not permit any additional delays in providing maximum opportunity for veterans seeking an appointment with a primary care physician,” he said in the letter.

The AAFP recommends:

1. Allowing civilian family physicians to provide primary care services to eligible veterans.
2. Allowing prescriptions prescribed by civilian family physicians to be filled at VA pharmacies.
3. Allowing civilian family physicians to order diagnostic tests at VA facilities.
4. Allowing civilian family physicians to refer patients to specialist physicians and other health care providers at VA facilities.
5. Allowing civilian family physicians to provide care to eligible veterans under the protections of the Federal Tort Claims Act.

“While these policy recommendations are not a solution to all the challenges facing the VA health system, they do represent an opportunity to alleviate the current backlog and facilitate access to primary care services for thousands of veterans,” Cain wrote. “We believe these five actions would be beneficial to veterans and the VA health care system.”



# # #

Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit Follow us on Twitter,( and like us on Facebook. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website,