WASHINGTON—A VA internal audit found that over 57,000 new veterans have been waiting for more than 90 days or more for an appointment and that another 64,000 veterans who requested an appointment during the enrollment process during the past 10 years have not yet been scheduled for an appointment.
Furthermore, the audit found that 13% of scheduling staff interviewed as part of the audit indicated they received instructions from supervisors or others to enter a date different than what the veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system.
“This data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions. As of today, VA has contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off of wait lists and into clinics. Veterans deserve to have full faith in their VA, and they will keep hearing from us until all our veterans receive the care they’ve earned,” Gibson said in a written statement on June 9th.
The audit was first announced in mid-April. The purpose of the nation-wide Access Audit was “to ensure a full understanding of VA’s policy among scheduling staff, identify any inappropriate scheduling practices used by employees regarding veteran preferences for appointment dates, and review waiting list management,” according to VA.
According to VA, the audit “covered a total of 731 separate points of access, and involved over 3,772 interviews of clinical and administrative staff involved in the scheduling process at VA Medical Centers.”
The VA explained in a fact sheet that it was “immediately redoubling” its efforts to “quickly address delays in veterans’ health care.” In addition, among actions it was taking was to remove the 14-day scheduling goal of patients.
The audit noted that “meeting a 14-day wait-time performance target for new appointments was simply not attainable given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services.”
Acting Secretary Gibson also directed VHA to develop a new patient satisfaction measurement program to provide “real-time, robust, location-by-location information on patient satisfaction, to include satisfaction data of those veterans attempting to access VA healthcare for the first time,” according to VA.
Other actions included implementing “an immediate hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (central office in Washington D.C. and the 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) regional offices, except for critical positions to be approved by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis.”
“This action will begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward leaning leadership,” according to VA.