The Department of Veterans Affairs released the results of its internal audit, which didn't reveal a surprise -- wait times are long, and many employees around the country claim there's gaming of the scheduling system.
Nationwide, there are more than 100,000 veterans facing long wait times, including more than 4,300 around Arizona.
Between the Phoenix VA, as well as the VA health care systems in northern Arizona and southern Arizona, there are nearly 3,000 veterans on the electronic waiting list.
According to the VA, these are the "number of all new patients (those who have not been seen before in the specific clinic in the previous 24 months) for whom appointments cannot be scheduled in 90 days or less."
Then another 1,300-plus are entered in the New Enrollee Appointment Request system, which is the "number of newly enrolled Veteran that have requested an appointment during the enrollment process during the past 10 years for whom an appointment has not yet been scheduled."
Based on the report from the VA inspector general's office on the problems in Phoenix, the number is likely even higher than that. The VA data lists about 1,100 vets not even on the waiting list in Phoenix, but the inspector general found more than that:
- New Enrollee Appointment Request (NEAR) tracking report at Phoenix HCS listed about 1,100 newly enrolled veterans who indicated they wanted a primary care appointment but as of April 28, 2014, had not received one and were not on the EWL.
- Screenshot Paper Printouts represented about 400 newly enrolled veterans who called the Phoenix HCS Helpline and requested a primary care appointment. As of April 2014, the facility had yet to schedule these veterans their primary care appointment or add them to the EWL.
- "Schedule an Appointment Consult" represented about 200 veterans referred to primary care, but the consult was still pending. These 200 veterans were seen in a non-primary care clinic, such as mental health or the emergency department, but were then referred to primary care. As of April 2014, the facility had yet to schedule these veterans their primary care appointment or add them to the EWL.
"The length of time these 1,700 veterans wait for appointments prior to being scheduled or added to the EWL will never be captured in any VA wait time data because Phoenix HCS staff had not yet scheduled their appointment or added them to the EWL," the inspector general's report said. "Until that happens, the reported wait time for these veterans has not started. Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being lost or forgotten in Phoenix HCS' convoluted scheduling practices. As a result, these veterans may never obtain their requested or required primary care appointment.
The VA's nationwide audit doesn't come to a surprising conclusion -- the VA's resources can't meet the demand for services. Throw in a very complicated scheduling process, and here we are.
Through nationwide surveys of thousands of VA employees, there were employees in every single facility that said the reported data were incorrect to some degree. However, 13 percent of the scheduling staff interviewed said they were specifically told by supervisors to enter an incorrect date while scheduling, and another 8 percent acknowledged a separate, unofficial list in their scheduling practices.
Along with this report, the VA issued a press release explaining the steps it's taking to rectify all these problems, including contacting the veterans on waiting lists and making them appointments, as well as removing the schedulers' incentives for posting quicker wait times.
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