GAO report: Veterans still enduring long waits for treatment

The Veterans Administration has apparently learned very little when its agents were caught faslifying records that showed that wait times for veterans to receive treatment were so long that some patients died before seeing a medical provider.

A GAO report released on Monday says that the V.A.'s procedures regarding appointments and follow-up are still inadquate and that some veterans' request for an appointment are never answered.

Washington Post:

The average waiting time — as measured from the time veterans requested that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen — at the six medical centers GAO studied ranged from 22 to 71 days. Of the 180 veterans GAO tracked, 60 still hadn’t been seen by the time the auditors ended their review last month, in several cases because VA never followed up on their requests to be contacted or because of other administrative errors.

In addition, wait times “varied widely, even within the same medical center,” and 12 of those who were seen had waited more than 90 days.

“These time frames were impacted by limited appointment availability and weaknesses in medical center scheduling practices, which contributed to unnecessary delays,” the report said.

The report was issued ahead of a House Veterans Affairs’ Committeehearing on Tuesday, two years after a hearing there helped trigger a flood of revelations that veterans had been enduring long waits for care and that some patient records had been fudged to hide it.

“This report proves what we’ve long known: wait-time manipulation continues at VA and the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the committee chairman, said in a statement. “But given the fact that VA has successfully fired just four people for wait-time manipulation while letting the bulk of those behind its nationwide delays-in-care scandal off with no discipline or weak slaps on the wrist, I am not at all surprised these problems persist.”

GAO noted that the department calculates appointment wait times from the day that veterans request an appointment date, rather than from when they first ask VA to contact them to schedule one. “Therefore, these data do not capture the time these veterans wait prior to being contacted by schedulers, making it difficult for officials to identify and remedy scheduling problems that arise prior to making contact with veterans,” it said.

This intolerable situation is the result of incompetent management.  And that starts at the top. 

But there's also the possibility that the culture of the agency is so resistant to change that no temporary cabinet member will be able to alter how the bureaucrats do their jobs.  Clearly, the emphasis of the V.A. has to switch from blindly adhering to process and procedure to actually treating our veterans as human beings, not statistics to be toted up on a page that is then handed to the boss as proof that you're doing your job correctly. 

The V.A. has been broken for years.  Its people need to start treating the large influx of wounded, broken soldiers from the wars who are now seeking help only to find the door shut in their face with the dignity and compassion they deserve. 

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