Audit reveals ‘systemic’ access to care woes for US veterans

By on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

An audit on health care access for US veterans released Monday confirmed the existence of fake waiting lists, prompting a top official to slam “systemic” problems for America’s wounded warriors seeking treatment.

The report is the latest revelation in a political scandal that last month led to the resignation of Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary.

The audit showed that 13 percent of scheduling staff got instructions from supervisors or others “to enter a date different than what the veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system” to conceal wait times in official statistics.

Eight percent of scheduling staff said they used “alternatives to the official Electronic Wait List.”

“In some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable,” according to a fact sheet provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Allegations last month that staff manipulated scheduling data and that veterans may have died waiting for treatment at a VA clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, put President Barack Obama’s administration on the defensive and ultimately cost Shinseki his job.

“There have been lapses of integrity, we’ve got systemic problems with scheduling practices,” Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday as he presented the report.

“We’re going to get veterans off the wait list, and we’re going to get them in the clinics where they can be seen and cared for. That’s our first priority.”

The audit found that, around the country, there were roughly 57,436 veterans waiting to be scheduled for an appointment according to May 15 data.

In addition, it cited another 63,869 veterans who have enrolled in the VA health care system over the past decade and have not been seen for an appointment.

In total, of the more than six million appointments scheduled across the Veterans Health Administration system on May 15, some 242,000 — or four percent — had a wait time of longer than 30 days.

Officially, a veteran is not supposed to wait longer than two weeks for medical appointments at VA facilities.

However, the audit showed that such a “target for new appointments was not only inconsistently deployed throughout the health care system but was not attainable given growing demand for services and lack of planning for resource requirements.”

“There have been lapses of integrity, we’ve got systemic problems with scheduling practices,” Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday as he presented the report.

“We’re going to get veterans off the wait list and we’re going to get them in the clinics where they can be seen and cared for. That’s our first priority.”

Based on the findings of the audit, the Department of Veterans Affairs has, among other things, decided to freeze bonus payments, acquire and put into place “long-term scheduling software solutions” and establish “access timeliness goals.”

The audit involved more than 3,772 interviews of clinical and administrative staff at 731 VA medical centers and clinics.

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