Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is dismissing reports of significant delays in veterans mailed prescriptions as “conspiracy theories” being used to “score political points against the Trump administration,” and warning that the narrative could discourage some individuals from using the U.S. postal service for critical medications.
“It’s disappointing to see how comfortable some are with presenting misinformation to advance a political agenda, even when that information has the potential to cause harm to those who served this country,” Wilkie wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
Veterans should never be given reason to doubt a system that continues to work for them at a high level, year after year.”
Wilkie’s comments come amid growing concerns from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill about issues with postal service operations, including reports from veterans service organizations of slowdowns in medication delivery.
Last last month, Disabled American Veterans reported “an increasing number of credible reports” of problematic slowdowns in veterans receiving mailed prescriptions. Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said they have received numerous letters from veterans complaining about delayed deliveries creating health problems, with little explanation for the reasons.
Last week, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy asking USPS to prioritize timely delivery of veterans’ mail-order medications amid planned agency reforms.
“VA has informed me that over the past year, its outpatient prescriptions delivered by USPS have experienced delays of nearly 25 percent, with average delivery time rising from 2.3 days in June 2019, to 2.86 days,” Moran wrote.
“There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged postal operations as it has so many aspects of our society. In light of the difficult environment, I urge you to remain mindful that ongoing management and operational reforms do not negatively impact important functions which VA and our veterans rely.”
Democratic lawmakers have accused the White House of altering postal operations in an effort to disrupt mail-in voting this fall, inadvertently also hurting veterans.
VA mail-order pharmacies handle roughly 150 million outpatient prescriptions each year, with USPS handling about 86 percent of that work. That number has increased slightly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, after many VA medical sites with pharmacies shut down for non-emergency services in an effort to slow the spread of that illness.
In his editorial, Wilkie noted that the slowdown to just under three days for delivery still remains faster than the department’s self-mandated target of three-to-five days for medication mailings.
“It’s only natural that some isolated problems will occur, given the volume of prescriptions we send in the mail,” he wrote. “But when we see delays, we don’t sit back and accept them — we find solutions. VA staff continuously monitor our delivery times, and we shift to commercial carriers if USPS is experiencing problems in certain regions of the country.”
The secretary acknowledged that the department has switched to private-sector delivery services for some areas in recent months, including Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Arizona. But he insisted there is “no data” backing up signs of widespread problems with veterans medication deliveries.
“This utterly untrue premise doesn’t square with the fact that the vast majority of veterans are happy with VA’s prescription program,” he wrote.
Democratic lawmakers have promised additional oversight on the issue in coming months to ensure that mailed ballots and medications continue to be delivered in a timely fashion.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.