Jun 24, 2015

Number of veterans waiting one month for an appointment has increased 50% in past year

One year after an audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 120,000 veterans were told they had to wait 90 days for medical care, "the number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than it was during the height of last year's problems, department officials say," Richard Oppel reports for The New York Times. Rural areas are home to 5.6 million veterans.  

"The department is also facing a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall, which could affect care for many veterans," and "is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap," Oppel writes.

VA clinics have made moves to see more patients, seeing 2.7 million more patients in the past year than the year before, while also referring 900,000 patient to outside physicians, Oppel writes. "But what was not foreseen, department leaders say, was just how much physician workloads and demand from veterans would continue to soar—by one-fifth, in fact, at some major veterans hospitals over just the past year."

"Physician workloads—as measured by an internal metric known as 'relative value units'—grew by 21 percent at hospitals and clinics in the region that includes Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina; by 20 percent in the Southern California and southern Nevada regions; and by 18 percent in North Carolina and Virginia," Oppel writes. "And by the same measure, physician care purchased for patients treated outside the department grew by 50 percent in the region encompassing Pennsylvania and by 36 percent in the region that includes Michigan and Indiana."

"Those data include multiple appointments by individual patients and reflect the fact that patients typically now schedule more appointments than they did in the past."Oppel writes. "But even measured by the number of individuals being treated, the figures are soaring in many places: From 2012 to 2014, for example, the number of patients receiving treatment grew by 18 percent at the Las Vegas medical center; by 16 percent in Hampton, Va.; and by 13 percent in Fayetteville, N.C., and Portland, Ore." (Read more)