Veterans’ Wait Times for Health Care Violate Policy
The Department of Veterans Affairs consistently understated the wait times for veterans seeking medical care and in some cases made seriously injured veterans wait more than 30 days for an appointment, a violation of department policy, according to a report by the VA's Office of Inspector General, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports.
For the report, investigators analyzed 700 primary and specialty care outpatient appointments made at 10 VA medical centers in October 2006.
OIG found that the Veterans Health Administration falsely reported to Congress that 95% of its appointments were scheduled within wait times of 30 days or less. In fact, about 75% of appointments were scheduled within that time frame, according to the report. In addition, the report noted that 27% of the injured veterans who had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment had severe service-related disabilities. VA policy states that such patients must be scheduled within 30 days of their requests.
Investigators also found that VA might have understated the number of veterans on its electronic waiting list by more than 53,000. The report stated, "While waiting time inaccuracies and omissions from electronic waiting lists can be caused by a lack of training and data entry errors, we also found that schedulers at some facilities were interpreting the guidance from their managers to reduce waiting times as instruction never to put patients on the electronic waiting list." The report added, "This seems to have resulted in some 'gaming' of the scheduling process" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/11).
In response to the report, VA Undersecretary for Health Michael Kussman said that scheduling problems should be addressed, but he questioned the OIG's methodology, citing VA surveys that find that 85% of veterans receive appointments when they are needed (CongressDaily, 9/11).
In related news, the AP/Daily Star on Monday examined the incidence of traumatic brain injuries -- dubbed the "silent epidemic" of the Iraq war -- among returning veterans. Most cases of TBI are mild, with patients achieving recovery within a year.
However, according to military estimates, one-fifth of veterans with mild TBIs will have prolonged or lifelong symptoms and will require continuing medical care, as will those with more moderate and severe cases (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/10).