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Veterans Still Facing Long Wait Times at VA Facilities Despite Reforms

A year after it was revealed that sick patients at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals were dying due to lack of care, the number of patients waiting more than 30 to 60 days for medical appointments remains flat, reports the Associated Press.

“VA statistics show that the number of patients facing long waits has not declined, even after Congress gave the department an extra $16.3 billion last summer to shorten waits for care,” writes the AP.

In April 2014 CNN reported that 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments with the Phoenix VA health system. A retired clinical director from that system told CNN that the Phoenix VA deliberately covered up delayed veteran care through a secret wait list.

The scandal grew to include VA facilities nationwide. An investigation by Senator Tom Coburn released in June 2014 concluded that over a 10-year period, VA misconduct resulted in 1,000 or more veteran deaths. An internal VA audit ordered by the White House found patient wait time manipulation at more than 60 percent of VA facilities investigated. It concluded there was a “systemic lack of integrity” within some facilities.

The findings resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the $16.3 billion Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. Signed into law by President Obama last August, the Act aims to speed up veteran access to healthcare by funding the hiring of more health care workers and allowing patients facing long delays to receive private sector care.

But according to a new report by the Associated Press, from August 1 to February 29 nearly 894,000 VA medical facility appointments did not meet the agency’s 30-day timeliness goal, including around 230,000 appointment delays of more than 60 days.

Delays were unequally distributed across the VA network, with a high percentage clustered in the Southern states of Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Facilities in these states accounted for fewer than 6 percent of patient visits but were responsible for 20% of the appointments delayed 60 or more days. Long wait times were also found at facilities in New Mexico and Colorado.

It’s worth noting that the VA is dealing with rising demand. VA system enrollees increased from 6.8 million in 2002 to 8.9 million in 2013. The VA added 800 doctors and 2,000 nurses between April and December and is building new health centers, but demand still seems to be outpacing capacity.

“We are doing a whole series of things…to deal with the immediate issue,” Sloan Gibson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told the AP. “But we need an intermediate term plan that moves us ahead a quantum leap, so that we don’t continue over the next three or four years just trying to stay up. We’ve got to get ahead of demand.”

The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million veterans. It also offers monthly compensation and other benefits to veterans.

You can use our online tool to find out whether you qualify for VA benefits.

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