VA Disputes Charges of Major Delays in Mail Delivery of Veterans' Prescriptions

Bottles of prescription medication move along a conveyor belt at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy facility in North Charleston, South Carolina. (VA Photo)
Bottles of prescription medication move along a conveyor belt at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy facility in North Charleston, South Carolina. (VA Photo)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has disputed mounting charges of major delays this year in the delivery of prescription drugs for veterans by the U.S. Postal Service.

"Currently, VA prescriptions delivered via USPS orders are averaging less than three days' delivery time, and more than 95% percent of VA prescriptions delivered via [United Parcel Service] next-day service have been on time," a VA spokeswoman said via email Monday.

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"VA continually monitors prescription delivery times throughout the country and uses a variety of methods to ensure timely delivery, including in-person pharmacies, USPS and commercial carriers," she added.

However, Disabled American Veterans National Commander Stephen "Butch" Whitehead said in a statement Monday that the VA itself has acknowledged that about one-quarter of the millions of prescriptions for veterans sent by USPS thus far this year have been hit by delays.

"VA has now confirmed to us that USPS, which is responsible for delivering about 90% of all VA mail-order prescriptions, has indeed been delayed in delivering these critical medications by an average of almost 25% over the past year, with many locations experiencing much more significant delays," said Whitehead, a combat-disabled Army veteran of Iraq. "To help mitigate these postal delays, VA has been forced to switch to alternative delivery services in a number of areas across the country and is taking other actions to expedite processing and delivery of prescriptions."

Other veterans service organizations were reluctant to make a judgment at this time on whether veterans are being put at risk by delays in the delivery of mail prescriptions.

"I'm not saying it's not happening," said Sherman Gillums Jr., a Marine veteran and chief advocacy officer for AMVETS. But he said he has seen "no discernible trend on an abrupt shift on delivery time."

In his statement, Whitehead said, "It is simply unacceptable that America's veterans, particularly those who were injured or made ill in defense of this country, should face the prospect of not receiving necessary medications in a timely manner, considering such delays can be the difference between health and sickness, or even worse."

Richard Valdez, a Marine Vietnam veteran and a past DAV state commander for California, said he ordered four medications through the VA on July 25. "I received one on Aug. 2, and I'm still waiting on the others."

As a result, he has reduced the dosage on the medications that he already has, Valdez said. He added that he has heard from veteran friends in California that they also are experiencing "noticeable delays" in mail prescription deliveries.

According to the VA, its mail-order pharmacy system processes about 120 million prescriptions per year, and nearly half a million prescriptions go out daily. It encourages veterans to order routine prescriptions in advance.

In an Aug. 13 letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, 31 Democratic senators charged that wholescale changes in how USPS operates are "needlessly delaying veterans' access to life-saving prescriptions, when the health and lives of Americans are already at high risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

"We have received many troubling reports from veterans waiting weeks for their prescriptions to arrive due to delays at USPS," they added.

The issue of mail-order prescriptions for veterans has been caught up in allegations that cost-cutting measures at USPS threaten to delay the delivery of mail ballots for the Nov. 3 elections.

In a statement Tuesday, DeJoy said that he is suspending more reforms at USPS until after the November elections "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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