Last year, investigators revealed that Veterans Affairs health facilities across the country had created hidden waitlists that kept patients waiting months, even years for treatment. The revelations shook the VA, leading then-Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in disgrace as lawmakers on Capitol Hill pushed for reform at the scandal-plagued agency.
Congress ultimately passed legislation allocating about $16.3 billion to overhaul the distressed system and expand options to thousands of veterans who were kept waiting for medical care.
Nearly a year later, however, not much seems to be any better at the VA. A new analysis by the Associated Press reviewed wait times at VA medical facilities across the country and found that there isn’t much of a difference from last year when the scandal broke out — despite the billions of dollars that were thrown into reform efforts.
The new report acknowledged that it’s going to take more than year to completely overhaul the troubled department. Still, the findings suggest that little progress has been made so far, calling into question the way the VA is going about rectifying the problem.
The analysis shows that since last summer, the number of veterans waiting longer than 30 to 60 days for non-emergency care has stayed roughly the same. What’s worse, the number of appointments that take longer than 90 days has doubled in that same time period.
It also shows that from Aug. 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015, almost 900,000 appointments scheduled at VA facilities failed to meet the agency’s “timeliness goal” requiring patients to be seen within 30 days of scheduling their visit. About 232,000 of the appointments reviewed had veterans waiting longer than 60 days to see a health care provider.
Though the analysis examined VA facilities across the country, it found that long wait times tended to plague hospital centers in the south more than any other region.
“Many delay-prone facilities are clustered within a few hours' drive of each other in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a partly rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA's sluggish planning process,” the AP’s David Caruso wrote.
Hospital facilities with the longest wait times were found in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The AP’s report comes nearly a year after Congress passed what was intended to be a massive overhaul of the entire VA system. The measure, signed by President Obama in July, included $10 billion in emergency funding for private doctors to help treat veterans that aren’t able to get into a VA facility for treatment within 14 days of scheduling an appointment, or for veterans living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA center.
The rest of the $16.3 billion in funding from the reform legislation was slated to help VA facilities across the country build up their staffs and expand their buildings to be able to house more veterans.
So far, the VA has beefed up its staff by about 8,000 employees at facilities across the county, including 800 physicians and 2,000 nurses, officials at the department told the AP.
Though the VA officials acknowledge the continuing problems, they pointed to one measure of good news: The number of appointments that VA facilities are taking has increased by 4.5 percent compared to last year.
Still, they say it’s going to take more than one year for real, lasting reform to happen.
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