Veterans Affairs medical centers have come under criticism for long wait times for care. Here is a list of the facilities with the longest average waits as of May 15 for new patients seeking primary care, specialist care and mental health care, according to audit results released Monday.
Honolulu, where the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center is located, tops the list for the longest average wait time for new patient primary care with 145 days. That’s 60 days more the wait time than the second facility on the list, located in Harlingen, Texas.
NEW PATIENT PRIMARY CARE LONGEST AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
- Honolulu, Hawaii: 145 days
- VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 85 days
- Fayetteville, North Carolina: 83 days
- Baltimore HCS, Maryland: 81 days
- Portland, Oregon: 80 days
- Columbia, South Carolina: 77 days
- Central Alabama Veterans HCS, Montgomery, Alabama: 75 days
- Providence, Rhode Island: 74 days
- Salt Lake City, Utah: 73 days
- Richmond, Virginia: 73 days
The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. A preliminary review last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were “systemic” throughout the VA medical network, the nation’s largest single health care provider serving nearly 9 million veterans.
Hawaii’s Congressional representatives responded to Honolulu’s poor showing in the delay of new veteran patient primary care.
“This is infuriating news,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told KHON2 News. “Literally, on each island that I visited, there were multiple veterans that came up to me from different generations that served in different conflicts, some with tears literally streaming down their faces, begging for help.”
Gabbard said she is drafting legislation that would make it easier for veterans to get medical care “and make it so that a veteran can go and see a doctor in their community, see a private physician with their VA identification card, and get care. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer.”
“These long wait times for new patients … are extremely troubling,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, who is also a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees. “The (Honolulu) medical center faces challenges involving neighbor island transportation and access, but these should not be excuses. Prior to this data release, my office reached out to the VA Inspector General’s Office asking for an impartial review and verification of wait time data for Hawaii-based VA medical clinics and centers. The audit released by VA today makes clear that we need to get to bottom of what is going on in the VA system in order to take appropriate action.
“I will also introduce bipartisan legislation this week to provide immediate relief for waiting veterans who require emergency procedures,” Hirono said.
“I think this audit confirmed what we already suspected, that our veterans face unacceptable delays,” Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said. “We need to do more to ensure that our veterans receive the care they have earned, and that we as a nation owe them for their service.
“The House has taken action on this, passing a bill back in December, 2013, to execute a lease for a new VA center in Ewa; we’ve been waiting for Senate action on that and they finalized it recently. While I would have preferred that the process move more quickly through the Senate, I am glad we are making progress.
“Even with that progress and with a new Hawaii VA clinic in the pipeline, for me the audit report is a call for more and faster action. Right now, I am reviewing a number of proposals from both sides of the aisle. I think it’s critical that we do not play politics with the health of our veterans. We must consider solutions that will get at the systemic issues that plague the VA.”
On Tuesday, June 3, Sen. Brian Schatz cosponsored the Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, legislation that would make the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more accountable, make way for a major new VA medical facility on Oahu, cut wait times, and improve access to health care for veterans.
“Our veterans and their families have made tremendous sacrifices in service to our nation and we have a responsibility to make sure they get the health care and benefits they have earned,” he said. “Veterans facing long wait times to see a doctor and access health care is inexcusable. Our bill will make VA executives more accountable, cut wait times, and establish a major new VA medical facility on Oahu that would double VA clinical services on the island, helping make sure Hawaii veterans get the timely care they deserve.”