The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

June 9, 2014

Audit: Long waits at 2 Pa. VAs

Altoona among 6 targeted for further review

PITTSBURGH — Among Pennsylvania’s Veterans Affairs facilities, Philadelphia’s medical center has the most new enrollees waiting at least two months for an appointment, according to an audit released Monday.

And the Altoona VA was among six in Pennsylvania that the audit said will require additional review and could face further action because of problems.

The Philadelphia VA had 1,141 new enrollees wait more than 60 days for an appointment, while Pittsburgh had 443. But Pittsburgh had the longest wait time for new enrollees at nearly 60 days. The figure for Philadelphia was about 43 days, while Erie was 21.

The VA released the nationwide audit Monday, the first look at its network in the uproar that began with reports of patients dying while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA center. The audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking first appointments.

Several other states fared far worse than the Pennsylvania clinics. The VA in Honolulu had the longest wait at 145 days, followed by Harlingen, Texas, at 85 days and Fayetteville, North Carolina, at 83 days.

But the Erie VA was fifth worst in the nation in scheduling mental health care for new patients, at 57 days. Durham, North Carolina, was the worst at 104 days.

The Wilkes-Barre, Coatesville and Erie VAs scheduled 99 percent of all appointments in less than 30 days, compared with 98 percent in Pittsburgh and 94 percent in Philadelphia.

The audit found that six VA centers in Pennsylvania will require additional review. Those centers, which could face further actions because of problems, are in Altoona, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Erie, Lebanon and Horsham.

Joe Eastman, a retired Naval officer who has helped many veterans navigate the VA system, said the centers provide timely care – but not all the time.

“At best I could say it’s inconsistent,” said Eastman, a community liaison officer at The Veterans Group, a 43-bed facility in Philadelphia that specializes in addiction treatment. “If you happen to get a hold of the right office, things went well. If you didn’t, you just got redirected from one office to another.”

David Kamioner, a Veterans Group spokesman, said “most people are impressed” with the medical care at VA facilities.

“But on the administrative side, there are mistakes, there are duplications, there are letters that arrive after the ap­pointment dates telling you of your appointment dates,” he said.

Nationally, 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the audit showed “systemic problems” that demand immediate action.

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