By Albert Lin
More than 57,000 newly enrolled veterans have been waiting 90 or more days for an appointment, and nearly 64,000 more enrolled in the VA health system over the past decade but have never been seen by a doctor. The audit covered 731 facilities nationwide and included interviews with more than 3,700 staffers.
“This data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions,” acting Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a statement.
To remedy the situation, the VA detailed a plan to increase hours for VA staffers and to contract with private clinics to see vets who are unable to get care through a VA medical center. (A senior VA official who gave a background briefing to reporters estimated the department will spend $300 million on this initiative.) Gibson said the VA has already contacted 50,000 veterans to get them off of wait lists and planned to reach out to more.
Gibson also will eliminate the 14-day scheduling goal for appointments, which the audit said is “simply not attainable” and which led to deceptive practices by people whose bonuses were tied to that standard: 13 percent of patient schedulers said that they had been instructed by a supervisor to enter false information on how long veterans had to wait for appointments. The audit found at least one instance of phony wait times in 76 percent of VA facilities.
The acting secretary is also suspending all performance bonuses for senior executives for the current fiscal year; creating a new patient-satisfaction survey; deploying mobile units to reach more veterans; and ordering an independent external audit of VA scheduling practices. He will also increase transparency by posting access data twice a month at VA.gov.
Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement, “Today’s report is more disturbing proof that corruption is ingrained in many parts of the VA healthcare system. The Department of Justice should get off the sidelines and start actively pursuing charges where applicable to the fullest extent of the law.”
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “The President is committed to doing is making sure that we put in place the kinds of reforms that will ensure that … veterans all across the country have access to the kinds of benefits that the President certainly believes they should have.”