Md. vets have long wait for first VA appointment
By JOHN FRITZE | The Baltimore Sun | Published: June 14, 2014
Veterans in Maryland scheduling a primary care appointment through the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time wait an average of 80 days to see a doctor, making the state's system fourth-worst in the nation out of 141 systems reviewed, according to data released by the federal government.
An extensive audit made public Monday as part of the agency's effort to confront a national scandal over wait times showed that the VA Maryland Health Care System performed worse on that measure than Atlanta, Dallas and Boston, where wait times averaged 64 days, 60 days and 59 days, respectively.
Russell W. Myers Jr., adjutant for the Maryland headquarters of the American Legion, called the numbers troubling and said the veterans group is working to organize town hall meetings to discuss the issue.
The Maryland system performed far better when overall wait times were measured, taking into account more established patients and those seeking specialty care. Of 53,895 appointments scheduled overall, 96 percent were made within 30 days, according to the report. The audit represents a snapshot of appointments in the system on May 15.
The Obama administration released the data amid an outcry over wait times that led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month. The agency has acknowledged 23 deaths attributed to delayed care.
Maryland officials acknowledged the long wait for primary care and said they have taken immediate steps to deal with the problem, including bringing on additional providers and support staff, reintroducing Saturday hours at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and contacting all new patients who have been waiting for more than 90 days.
The agency also apologized for the delays in a statement sent by spokeswoman Rosalia Scalia.
"We will continue to work to correct systemic problems in accessing VA health care for all veteran patients throughout the state," the statement read. "We remain committed to providing quality, safe and compassionate health care to Maryland's veterans."
The VA benefits office in Baltimore, which is separate from the VA Maryland Health Care System but a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has also been faulted for its service to Maryland's 450,000 veterans.