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VA Regularly Understates Wait Times For Veterans

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Department of Veterans Affairsconsistently understated the wait times for veterans seeking medicalcare and in some cases made seriously injured veterans wait more than30 days for an appointment, a violation of department policy, accordingto a report by the VA's Office of Inspector General, the AP/Arizona Daily Starreports. For the report, investigators analyzed 700 primary andspecialty care outpatient appointments made at 10 VA medical centers inOctober 2006.

OIG found that the Veterans Health Administrationfalsely reported to Congress that 95% of its appointments werescheduled within wait times of 30 days or less. In fact, about 75% ofappointments were scheduled within that time frame, according to thereport. In addition, the report noted that 27% of the injured veteranswho had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment had severeservice-related disabilities. VA policy states that such patients mustbe scheduled within 30 days of their requests.

Investigatorsalso found that VA might have understated the number of veterans on itselectronic waiting list by more than 53,000. The report stated, "Whilewaiting time inaccuracies and omissions from electronic waiting listscan be caused by a lack of training and data entry errors, we alsofound that schedulers at some facilities were interpreting the guidancefrom their managers to reduce waiting times as instruction never to putpatients on the electronic waiting list." The report added, "This seemsto have resulted in some 'gaming' of the scheduling process" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/11).

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Inresponse to the report, VA Undersecretary for Health Michael Kussmansaid that scheduling problems should be addressed, but he questionedthe OIG's methodology, citing VA surveys that find that 85% of veteransreceive appointments when they are needed (CongressDaily, 9/11).

Traumatic Brain Injuries Affect Many Vets

In related news, the AP/Daily Staron Monday examined the incidence of traumatic brain injuries -- dubbedthe "silent epidemic" of the Iraq war -- among returning veterans. Mostcases of TBI are mild, with patients achieving recovery within a year.

However,according to military estimates, one-fifth of veterans with mild TBIswill have prolonged or lifelong symptoms and will require continuingmedical care, as will those with more moderate and severe cases (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/10).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.