Tuesday, June 10, 2014

VA audit finds 120,000 veterans wait months for care; long waits especially bad for rural vets

More than 120,000 veterans who tried to schedule an appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs were told they had to wait a minimum of 90 days to get medical care, while some who requested an appointment never got one, according to an audit by the agency. Statistics for each of the 731 VA facilities are available by clicking here.

The audit found that 57,436 newly enrolled veterans were told they had to wait at least 90 days, while 63,869 veterans who enrolled within the past decade were unsuccessful in scheduling an appointment, Tom Cohen reports for CNN. The VA has acknowledged that long waits resulted in the deaths of 23 veterans.

The longest average wait for specialist care was 145 days at Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, while the longest average wait for mental-health care was 104 days in Durham, N.C., the audit found.

Long waits are especially bad for rural veterans, whose average age continues to rise. Now about half of all rural veterans are 65 or older. Rural veterans, who on average are 18 years older than urban ones, also suffer from a homeless problem that prevents some veterans from having the means to get to a facility. (Economic Research Service graphic)
"Despite efforts to address some issues in recent years, including reductions in backlogs for benefits and the number of homeless veterans, the long waits have continued for newly enrolled veterans to get initial appointments for care," Cohen writes. "Reasons for the chronic problems include the increasing number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a bonus system that rewarded managers for meeting goals regarding access to treatment."

A lack of open appointment slots with approved providers was another reason given for the long wait time, Jamie Fuller reports for The Washington Post. "Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are working on a bill that would let veterans facing long wait times go to out of network for health care providers. It would also provide about $500 million for the agency to hire additional medical personnel."

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