Although the VA waiting list scandal has been pushed off the front pages by the latest administration scandal, new accusations and information are still coming out. The most recent is the revelation that waiting lists were used in VA hospitals in the Midwest.
These waiting lists were not as extensive as the ones in the Phoenix VA but are troubling because what was thought to be a flaw in the system is even more widespread than anyone had feared. According to the preliminary analysis of the data by the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 57,000 veterans have had their scheduling misrepresented and another 64,000 were not on the list for appointments even after they had requested them.
Over 100,000 veterans have had their care delayed or ignored.
The analysis was based on examining 731 VA hospitals and clinics, and it found waiting times for appointments were overly long throughout the system. The 14-day scheduling goal is not realistic with the current staffing and management system.
Sloan Gibson, interim director of the VA after the resignation of Eric Shinseki, has announced reforms to the system. They include:
- Suspension of the 14-day appointment goal: This goal is considered unattainable and led to employees ‘gaming’ the system to attain the goal and earn cash bonuses. Incentives are being eliminated to prevent this from happening again.
- Accountability: Outside audits will be conducted at all the facilities that have been identified as having had their scheduling practices compromised. Senior administration officials at facilities that have gamed the system will be removed.
- Partial hiring freeze: With the exception of critical staffing, the VA is suspending hiring at regional health care offices.
- Accelerated hiring of healthcare staff: The hiring of doctors, nurses and healthcare staff will be accelerated to maintain and improve care for veterans in the system.
- Increased transparency: A twice-monthly update for waiting time data will be made available.
Additionally, a team is being sent to Phoenix to fix the problems with that facility’s scheduling, appointment backlog, and the recordkeeping problems that first brought this scandal to light. The Phoenix facility has the most severe problem, with over 1,700 veterans waiting for initial appointments after 90 days or more.
Whether acting Secretary Gibson can solve all of the problems plaguing the VA hospital system with the resources he currently has depends on people being aware of the issue and keeping it in the news and in people’s minds. Letting this issue drift back into obscurity will not help any of the veterans served (or not served) by the current VA hospital system. These abuses have to be corrected and we are obligated to help our veterans. Making sure that this issue is not forgotten is the first step in ensuring this type of behavior never happens again.
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