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Northern Indiana veterans seeking VA care for the first time face longer waits than established patients

An established patient faced an average wait for a primary care appointment of 2.89 days while a new patient waited 31.73 days.

Posted on June 11, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.

Northern Indiana veterans seeking health care for the first time face a particularly long time in setting up medical appointments, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the figures, released Monday, June 9:

  • Established VA patients faced an average wait of 2.89 days in scheduling a primary care appointments at northern Indiana facilities and a 4.77-day wait in setting up specialty care appointments.
  • For new patients, by contrast, the average wait time for a primary care appointment was 31.73 days and 48.39 days for a specialty care appointment.
  • Established VA patients had to wait an average of 1.44 days for a mental health appointment in northern Indiana. New patients had to wait 34.17 days, on average.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs is the focus of heavy criticism over long wait times some veterans face in getting health care, and even some Elkhart County veterans have complained of the time it takes to get attention. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the controversy — which prompted the inquiry that led to Monday’s data release — and U.S. lawmakers and VA officials are busy trying to address the matter.

The divergence in wait times between new and established patients in northern Indiana VA facilities reflects trends in VA systems across the nation. Included in the local figures are numbers for the varied facilities of the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System — medical centers in Fort Wayne and Marion and outpatient clinics in Goshen, South Bend, Muncie and Peru.

Not specified, meanwhile, is the time period covered.

Here’s more from the data

  • A little over 91 percent of appointments sought in northern Indiana VA health care facilities — 27,980 of them — occurred within 14 days of when they were sought.
  • The rest took longer, with 5.4 percent of the overall total, or 1,645 appointments, scheduled for between 15 and 30 days of when sought.
  • The final 3.4 percent of the overall total — 1,052 appointments — took 31 days or more to schedule.
  • Fifty-six newly enrolled veterans who had requested medical appointments over the past 10 years had not yet received an appointment with a doctor. Further details weren’t available, such as whether any of the 56 had moved after making an appointment request.

In releasing the numbers, the VA announced several measures to improve care access and quality. Among other things, the agency goal of scheduling medical appointments within 14 days of when sought will be eliminated to keep VA employees from engaging in “inappropriate scheduling practices” to meet the guideline.

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION

Gauging whether the northern Indiana numbers are good or bad probably depends on personal experience, whether you’re a veteran who had to wait to get an appointment and how long. Whatever the case, they’re not far off national figures.

Some 5.54 million appointments of 6 million in all across the country occurred within 14 days of when sought, 92.3 percent of the total, according to Monday’s numbers. That compares to 27,980 of 30,677 appointments in northern Indiana, or 91.2 percent.

And plenty in Indiana and across the nation remain skeptical, particularly in light of reports of VA officials manipulating records to make it appear appointments were made in a timely fashion. “As I hear from more veterans, I continue to support an independent investigation to make sure we identify and prosecute those responsible for falsifying records and neglecting patient care,” U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican, said in a statement Monday.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.




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