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Veterans Still Plagued By Long Wait Time For Health Care: Watchdog

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has not done enough to address the problems faced by veterans in scheduling and wait-times for healthcare, a nonpartisan watchdog report says.

Veterans are waiting for a long time before they receive care from health institutions due to schedulers manipulating appointment wait times. Wait-time data is also misleading and it underestimates how long veterans wait for care.

In the report released [pdf] by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), wait times for veterans can be longer than two months from the time they request an appointment, even if records says that veterans have "zero-day" wait times.

In 2014, VA was placed in hot water after a scandal surfaced in Phoenix. Schedulers were caught falsifying wait times resulting to the death of at least 40 veterans, who were waiting for care.

Another investigation revealed that VA chiefs falsified patient wait-times in seven states including New York, Vermont, Texas, Illinois, Arkansas, Delaware and California.

Two years after this scandal first broke out, the accuracy of records and wait times of veterans seeking medical care still face numerous problems.

Long Time Frames Impacted By Scheduling Practice Weaknesses

GAO has found that not every one of the veterans who were newly enrolled had access to healthcare while others faced discrepancies in the wait-times before they were seen.

About 60 out of 180 newly enrolled veterans were not able to consult with health care providers at the time of the assessment. The VA medical center staffs were not able to schedule appointments for nearly half of the veterans in accordance with the agency's policy.

It took about 22 to 71 days for the 120 veterans who requested for appointments before they were seen by health care providers.

One of the most important services that veterans need access to is health care. The VHA has faced an increasing demand for outpatient medical care services over the past 10 years. Each year, an average of 380,000 veterans is newly enrolled in the VA health care system.

GAO recommends that VHA should monitor the amount of time that newly-enrolled veterans have to wait in order to receive medical care, make sure veterans who have requested for appointments will be contacted on time and issue an updated policy on scheduling practices.

Photo: Terry Ross | Flickr 

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