New VA stats show ballooning wait times

Douglas Bragg, the director of the Veterans Benefits Administration office in Oakland, Calif., looks into one of the many boxes that contain the cases of veterans with pending claims, April 18, 2013.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 3, 2014

WASHINGTON — Statistics released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs show dramatically increased numbers of veterans who waited more than 30 days for health care appointments in June compared with the prior month.

The number of wait-listed vets doubled or even tripled at most VA hospitals and clinics across the country last month, according to the most recent data released in the VA’s effort at more transparency as it tackles bureaucratic dysfunction and scheduling manipulation that erupted into a national scandal.

Overall, the number of veterans waiting more than a month rose from 242,059 in mid-May to 636,436 in mid-June.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has warned that average wait times will grow as the department stamps out inappropriate scheduling practices and reaches out to veterans who were not receiving the health care they requested. In many VA facilities, staff were fudging records or creating off-the-books lists to meet a VA standard of offering appointments within two weeks of a request.

“As we continue to address systemic challenges in accessing care, these regular data updates enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to veterans and the public on improvements to veterans’ access to quality health care,” Gibson said in a released statement Thursday.

Gibson said the department is attempting to regain public trust following revelations of wrongdoing that outraged many.

The VA scandal began in April at a hospital in Phoenix where a whistleblower doctor alleged 40 veterans may have died while languishing on a secret wait list kept by staff. A series of audits have since proven such problems are widespread among 731 VA-run hospitals and clinics that serve 6.5 million vets each year, though the connection to deaths is still under investigation by the VA inspector general.

The new data released Thursday show veterans waiting more than a month for care in the Phoenix hospital increased from 6,712 to 11,066 between May and June — a jump that was typical among other VA facilities nationwide:

  • a VA hospital in Honolulu went from having 480 to 2,057
  • in New Orleans, the number went from 708 to 3,624
  • a Boston VA hospital went from 1,389 to 3,506

The data shed new light on the extent of the department’s health care access crisis. Increased waits come from a combination of new patients and proper scheduling. Gibson said the VA has contacted 140,000 vets in the wake of the scandal to offer care and schedule appointments.

Despite the dire picture, the statistics do show at least one bright spot: The VA appears to be shrinking the number of veterans with extremely long waits for care.

In May, 57,436 veterans of about 6 million who requested medical appointments waited more than three months, according to data released by the VA last month.

That figure shrank to 46,236 in June, while overall appointments increased.

Twitter: @Travis_Tritten