Puget Sound vets wait average of 40 days for care

Puget Sound vets wait average of 40 days for care

Credit: Dept. of Veterans Affairs

The VA hospital in Seattle.

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by KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on June 2, 2014 at 8:25 AM

Editor's note: This story was originally published Friday, but was unpublished when the VA told USA TODAY the data might not be accurate. All the data has been verified as correct.

Veterans seeking new medical care from the VA hospitals in Seattle and Lakewood waited an average of nearly 40 days for an appointment in the six-month period ending March 31.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by KING 5's news partners at USA TODAY, show that of 5,464 veterans who sought care at a VA Puget Sound facility over those six months, just 1,725  (31.6 percent) nsaw a medical professional within the 14-day period VA strives to meet.

The average wait time for VA Puget Sound patients -- 39.6 days -- was the 15th longest out of all 140 medical centrs in the VA system. The longest average wait time -- 65 days -- was experienced by veterans seeking care at the VA's Middle Tennessee HCS.

Overall, the data obtained by USA TODAY shows more than 356,000 veterans sought out new medical care in the six months between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. Of those, just two out of five saw a doctor within the target of 14 days. Nationwide, the average wait for an appointment was nearly double that -– 27 days.

On Friday, President Obama said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will resign in the wake of systemic problems with the health care for veterans.

Obama said he regretted accepting the resignation, but "the VA needs new leadership" and he agreed with Shinseki that he has become a distraction.

"We don't have time for distractions," Obama said. "We need to fix the problem."

Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson will take temporary charge of the department, Obama said, adding that he will nominate a new permanent secretary soon.

The wait-time numbers, already grim, may grow far worse as the investigation into doctored wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals continues. The data includes figures at hospitals and health care centers that investigators say falsified their figures to make them appear far better than they actually are.
 
Despite the potentially false figures included in the data obtained by USA Today, the numbers show that at many hospitals, veterans already are waiting weeks – sometimes months – for care. In Nashville, it takes more than two months for the average new patient to see a doctor. In Atlanta, Gainesville, Fla., and Portland, Ore., veterans are put on hold for more than 50 days.
 
Only 19 of the VA’s 140 health care facilities reported average wait times within the administration’s target range. Some – in Richmond, Va., Columbia, S.C. and Hampton, Va. – said fewer than 20% of new patients got in to see a doctor within that 14-day time frame.
 
The VA has confirmed that 42 facilities are under investigation for having falsified their wait records. It is unclear exactly which hospitals are being scrutinized, although investigators singled out some in a recent report.
 
According to an Office of Inspector General report, the Phoenix VA Health Care System showed patients waited 24 days in 2013, while in reality the actual delay averaged nearly four months. In the first six months of 2014, Phoenix reported average wait times of 22 days, according to the data released Friday – indicating that officials continued to conceal prolonged waits at the facility.
 
Numbers from other hospitals reveal a two-tiered system of care. Hawaii’s VA Pacific Islands Health Care System reported that 42% of its patients saw doctors within 14 days. But those who didn’t get seen quickly were left to linger: the average wait time for the rest was two and a half months.

-- Associated Press contributing.

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