Wait Times at the VA

Lead story at CNN was this:

Washington (CNN) — An internal Veterans Affairs audit released Monday said tens of thousands of newly returning veterans wait at least 90 days for medical care, while even more who signed up in the VA system over the past 10 years never got an immediate appointment they requested.

I have been following Phillip Longman, the author of “Best Care Anywhere” subtitled “Why VA Healthcare is Better than Yours” since he asked AB to review his book. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to do so. After talking to Maggie Mahar at Health Beat, she reviewed Phillip’s book A Salute to the VA on Memorial Day—Part 1. If you not had the chance to read the review, now is the time to do so. I would also recommend Phillip’s book for an understanding of how healthcare can improve and how the VA healthcare did improve to be superior to what private healthcare provides. In a nutshell, the VA is well beyond the typical private healthcare system in providing “evidence-based protocols of care — not inadvertently ordering up dangerous combinations of drugs, or performing unnecessary surgeries and tests just to make a buck and treating the whole patient and not just one part at a time.”

Yesterday, Phillip Longman presented the results of the VA audit Just how long are those wait times at the VA really? Remember CNN claims “Audit: More than 120,000 veterans waiting or never got care.”

– Of the 6,004,350 total appointments scheduled, 96% of them or 5,763,291 appointment were made in 30 days or less.

– Conversely, 242,059 veterans or 4% of the 6,004,350 scheduled appointments were made after 30 days

– The audit shows that even appointments at the Phoenix, AZ VA (the ground zero of the VA scandal), 89 percent of people enrolled in the system received an appointment in less than 30 days. The average wait for established patients to see a primary care doc coming to just over 14 days.

– Most everywhere else in the VA system, average wait times for established patients to see a primary care doc are in the range of 2 to 4 days, as are waiting times to receive specialty care.

Mind you, three months for a doctor’s visit is too long; but, it is not so out of the ordinary as what is being experienced in private healthcare today. The audit did reveal there are ~ 57,000 veterans who have waited for a doctor’s visit longer than 90 days and representing ~ 1% of the 6 million vets taken care of by the VA. Furthermore, these are more-than-likely not the newly arrived veterans from Iraq/Afghanistan as claimed by CNN and the rest of the media. Much of this numeric can probably be explained by the relaxing of VA regulations on admission into VA care. Many Vietnam Veterans have reapplied to the VA with the idea we may be accepted. I would urge any veteran to apply as the regs do change as well as your income and you can be grandfathered even if the next president tightens the regulations as Bush did.

The VA is not flawless as many of veterans today know and I surely do. Some veterans may have been forgotten by the VA, some may have moved to another city and missed the appointment, some may have gotten group insurance, and many may have enrolled immediately upon discharge to insure grandfathering and not need an appointment. This was the broad base upon which CNN, other media outlets, and politicians made their unsubstantiated claim which is proving to be more hyperbole than fact. Auditors did not find tens of thousands of veterans who have been waiting for up to ten years to get an appointment they requested. As Phillip explains, the audit U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VA Access Audit & Wait Times Fact Sheet actually finds “there are 63,869 who over the past ten years have enrolled in our healthcare system and have not been seen for an appointment.” And this is CNNs, the medias, and the politician’s “benefit” bestowed upon Veterans from flawed coverage of the issue?


Just how long are those wait times at the VA really?, Phillip Longman