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VA Audit Finds 100,000 Veterans Face Long Wait Times

An internal audit from the Department of Veterans Affairs found long wait times and falsified patient records at VA facilities across the country.
Posted at 7:48 PM, Jun 09, 2014

An internal audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs found more than 100,000 U.S. veterans across the country are waiting a long time to receive health care.

The audit interviewed 3,700 personnel across 731 VA facilities. The findings were not encouraging: more than 57,000 veterans had to wait longer than three months to get an appointment, and 64,000 veterans who enrolled in the system in the past decade have never even seen a VA doctor. What's more, 13 percent of VA personnel said they had been told to falsify records in order to hide long wait times.

The report seems to show that the long wait times and falsified records at one Phoenix VA hospital — which cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job last month — might be systemic problems across the entire department. (Via C-SPAN)

But the audit also underscores the immense challenge the VA is currently facing, thanks to a dramatic increase in patient numbers. The New York Timesnotes those 57,000 veterans waiting three months "accounted for one percent of the six million appointments that were scheduled — excluding surgeries and other procedures — as of May 15, 2014."

As  Vox points out, much of the blame for manipulated patient lists is tied to a "perverse incentive" within the VA, which offered hospital administrators financial bonuses for scheduling patients within 14 days.

"But that 14-day goal, as the audit points out, is unrealistic. As a result, some VA officials ... seemingly manipulated records to look like they were seeing patients in a timely manner so they could still receive their financial bonuses."

Following Shinseki's departure, the VA has taken some steps to clean up this mess, including abolishing the 14-day goal to discourage the falsifying of documents. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson has promised to speed up the appointment process for 50,000 veterans who are still waiting for care.

"The bottom line is, we're going to get veterans off of wait lists and we're going to get them into clinics where they could be seen and cared for. That's our first priority." (Via NBC)

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is holding an oversight hearing late Monday to review the VA's scheduling procedures, and a bipartisan proposal to help fix the department is currently being circulated in the Senate.