Meet the Guardians of Veterans’ Health and Safety

Nurse anesthetists save lives and reduce veteran wait times.

Veterans have served and sacrificed so much for our nation. They deserve the highest quality health care at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. That’s why thousands of veteran families are urging the VA to remove the red tape that prevents veterans from getting the surgical and pain care they need – now.  

When it comes to receiving surgical and pain management treatments, timely access to care saves veteran lives and prevents needless pain. That’s why the public strongly supports giving veterans direct access to certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), in addition to anesthesiologists. 

Dating back to 2017, reports from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General have identified shortages of anesthesia providers, resulting in unacceptable delays in scheduling surgeries and appointments for pain care. In 2022, the Inspector General’s report shows an alarming trend. Today, 31 VA facilities – 22% – report a shortage of nurse anesthetists or anesthesiologists to deliver vitally needed anesthesia and pain care, while an additional 5 facilities report shortages of both nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists to meet the demand, a significant increase over the previous year. 

Across the nation, nurse anesthetists already administer more than 50 million anesthetics to patients every year.

The VA has the power to solve this issue. They can allow nurse anesthetists to practice to the top of their scope of education and training. The ability of CRNAs to provide high quality care, even under the most difficult circumstances, has been recognized by every branch of the U.S. military. CRNAs have full practice authority in the Army, Navy, and Air Force and are the predominant provider of anesthesia on forward surgical teams and in combat support hospitals, where 90% of forward surgical teams are staffed by CRNAs.

Across the nation, nurse anesthetists already administer more than 50 million anesthetics to patients every year. These advanced practice nurses treat patients in a variety of settings – from surgical centers to hospitals. Within the VA health system, 1,000-plus nurse anesthetists work at the VA, providing veterans care they can count on. Nurse anesthetists are ready to do more to reduce veteran wait times, but they need the VA to authorize them to do so.

CRNAs practicing independently deliver safe, quality anesthesia care. Multiple studies have compared the safety of anesthesia delivery for various models, including a CRNA practicing independently and supervised.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the VA allowed advanced practice nurses full practice authority in some facilities to ensure that the VA had sufficient skilled providers. This temporary suspension was a success, and it’s time for the VA to permanently grant veterans direct access to nurse anesthetists throughout its healthcare system.

A recent survey found nearly 1 in 4 veterans are already waiting too long for the care they deserve – and of these, 13% say that their wait time was a significant problem for their health.