The Associated Press reported that a year after the revelation that veterans were getting sicker and even dying while waiting on care from Veterans Affairs facilities, those wait times have not gone down at all.
An analysis of government data shows that the number of medical appointments at VA clinics that were delayed 30 to 90 days has “largely stayed flat,” and the number of appointments delayed more than 90 days has “nearly doubled.”
“Nearly 894,000 appointments completed at VA medical facilities from Aug. 1 to Feb. 28 failed to meet the health system’s timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days,” the AP said. “That means roughly one in 36 patient visits involved a delay of at least a month. Nearly 232,000 of those appointments involved a delay of longer than 60 days.”
The analysis also found that many of the clinics with the most delayed appointments are located in the South.
“Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, 11 are in Georgia or southern Alabama and six are in north Florida.”
In other parts of the country, few VA facilities reported “having significant delays.” Less than half of all VA hospitals in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast averaged less than two appointments a month “that involved a wait of more than 60 days.”
By comparison, at a clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, more than 7,000 appointments completed between September 2014 and February 2015 involved a 60-plus day wait.
VA officials reported an increase of 4.5 percent in total number of appointments handled “by VA facilities between May and February” when compared to the same time period in the previous year, but admit that they are having a hard time keeping up with demand. Total enrollment in the VA system has increased by more than 2 million in a little over a decade.
“I think what we are seeing is that as we improve access, more veterans are coming,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “We are doing a whole series of things … to deal with the immediate issue, but we need an intermediate plan that moves us ahead a quantum leap, so that we don’t continue over the next three or four years just trying to stay up. We’ve got to get ahead of demand.”