More than 3,000 military veterans were found waiting for an appointment with a primary care physician in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs system, with 1,700 left in limbo by being excluded from an electronic waiting list, an inspector general has found.
The average wait time for a vet’s first appointment? 115 days.
An interim report by the Veterans Affairs inspector general has found that “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic” throughout the Veterans Health Administration, with a particularly acute problem in Phoenix, where those who have been left off of the waiting list for care “continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix Health Care Center's convoluted scheduling process.”
The report found that in Phoenix, senior executives “significantly understated” wait times, which also happens to be a main performance indicator for salary increases and bonuses.
Updated to include statement from Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller
The report comes hours before a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing is scheduled to examine problems in Phoenix. The witness list includes employees who have been compelled to testify under subpoena.
Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., responded to the report by calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a criminal investigation. He also called for embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
“Today the inspector general confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what was becoming more obvious by the day: wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country," Miller said.
The Phoenix VA is at the center of the scandal involving significantly delayed care for military veterans. As many as 40 veterans died waiting for care at the Phoenix center.
The VA inspector general’s sampling of 226 veterans found a dramatic difference in actual wait times and the wait times reported by the Phoenix VA.
According to Phoenix senior officials, veterans waited an average 24 days for their first appointment with a primary care physician, but the IG found that in reality, the 226 veterans waited an average of 115 days for a first appointment.
The IG found “multiple types of scheduling practices that are not in compliance” with the VA’s policies.
The IG said these multiple lists “may be the basis” for the reports of secret waiting lists that appear to be prevalent at multiple VA hospitals.
The report makes five recommendations for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
They include finding health care for the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix who not even been entered into the system yet, a review if VA medical center wait lists across the nation and to create a “new enrollee request report” to identify all veterans waiting for care.