New VA audit: 100K vets experience long-waits for care

Despite of President Obama being ‘madder than hell,’ the resignation of Eric Shinseki and congressional probes, the Veterans Affairs Department says more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them.

An additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA health care system over the past 10 years have never had appointments. In total, more than 100,000 veterans are “experiencing long wait times” for health-care, an audit found.

The department says the audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found that the agency’s complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors. The audit says a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for health care and poor planning.

The audit released Monday says 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times seem shorter. About eight percent of schedulers said they used alternatives to an official electronic waiting list, often under pressure to make waiting times look more favorable.

The report comes less than two weeks after the VA inspector general’s office confirmed recent allegations that VA hospitals have falsified appointment records to hide treatment delays.

Last week, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders and Senator John McCain reached agreement on the terms of a bill to help address some of the underlying problems that led to the treatment delays. More hearings are planned by both the U.S. House and Senate committees on veteran’s affairs in the coming days.

The VA scandal came to light late last year after Sam Foote, then a physician at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, filed a complaint with Office of Inspector General alleging that hospital administrators were falsifying patient access records to secure bonus pay and promotions. Investigators found that Phoenix VA leaders, who received cash awards for meeting goals, understated the delays faced by first-time patients.

Since then Shinseki and a top aide, Under Secretary Robert Petzel, resigned. Also Susan Bowers, the Southwest regional VA health care director, retired early, while Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA medical center, was placed on administrative leave along with two top aides.

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