A new watchdog report finds Veterans Affairs medical centers still aren’t adequately addressing wait times for veterans requesting care and some hospitals continue posting the wrong numbers to make it appear like wait times are improving.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the issue came to light two years ago and Congress reacted. “We appropriated more money,” Grassley says. “We made it possible to fire people that weren’t doing their job. We made it possible for people that aren’t getting help from the VA within 30 days to go to private practitioners. None of this stuff that we thought corrected this is working out the way we anticipated.”
While the VA claims the average wait time for a veteran to get service is between four and 28 days, the report from the Government Accountability Office says in the cases reviewed, the actual averages were between 11 and 48 days. Some newly-enrolled veterans waited more than 70 days to be seen.
“There’s been some follow-up by Congress,” Grassley says, “but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not a case of more money, a case of more laws, it’s a case of administration, people listening to whistleblowers, not punishing whistleblowers, following up on whistle blowing, firing the people that aren’t doing their job.”
The controversy came to light in 2014 after it was reported the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, was falsifying wait times and at least 40 veterans died while waiting on care. The suicide rate among veterans continues to bound. Five years ago, a study found 16 veterans a day took their own lives. Today, that suicide rate has climbed to 22 veterans per day.
“I’m not surprised to hear this report,” Grassley says. “I will study the report and I will do the appropriate follow-up. I’m going to do everything I can through the constitutional responsibility of oversight to make sure veterans are treated the way they were promised.” The GAO report reviewed scheduling records for 60 veterans at three VA hospitals and found improper scheduling in 25 percent of the appointments.