Audit Reveals Vets Waited 3 Months for VA Doctor's Appointments - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Audit Reveals Vets Waited 3 Months for VA Doctor's Appointments

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MISSOULA - More than 57,000 veterans have waited up to three months for a doctor's appointment at a VA clinic, and even more have never been seen by a doctor.

These latest numbers come from a nationwide audit of Veterans Affairs healthcare clinics, which was released on Monday.

The department audited 731 VA hospitals and interviewed more than 3,700 staff members at those hospitals.

The audit revealed the complicated scheduling process resulted in confusion among clerks and supervises.

It also says a 14-day wait time for new appointments was an unattainable goal due to high demand for veteran healthcare and poor planning.

In Fort Harrison in Montana, veterans wait an average of 48 days for their first appointment.

Fort Harrison and a Billings VA clinic have been flagged for further review and investigation.

Vietnam veteran Dan Gallagher, a Missoula resident, said waiting a month or more for an appointment with a primary care physician, health problems can become much more severe.

"That problem could be avoided, and sometimes that emergency situation could be avoided, if there was less of a turnaround time with the VA," he said.

Gallagher said oftentimes veterans end up getting treated at civilian clinics, which is only sometimes reimbursed by the VA.

"Making it easier for them to do that and easier for the hospital to accept them is something that's going to have to happen, at least until this mess is straightened out."

The audit shows 13% of scheduling staff reported their supervisors instructed them to falsify appointment dates to make wait times appear shorter.

Gallagher said, "It disappoints me and disheartens me that there were a number of administrators willing to do that just to look good."

Gallagher said long wait times for healthcare can be especially depressing for younger vets who aren't as used to the VA system.

"It has to be a turnoff right away, it has to make them doubt that the government that they fought for is going to honor its commitment."

The audit states the VA is now in the process of contacting veterans to reschedule their appointments for a sooner date if possible. Gallagher said he hopes the results of the audit aren't only used for political fire, but for actual changes to the system.

"It's both depressing as well as in some ways exonerating because it's something that we've been talking about for a long time," he said.

The audit also states VA officials are revising and enhancing scheduling training for employees.

Montana elected officials released statements on the VA audit, and are taking action on the issue.

The state's Senior Senator and member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Jon Tester said, "Forty-seven days is too long for anyone to wait-- much less a veteran who sacrificed for our freedoms."  

Representative Steve Daines introduced a bill requiring the VA to pay for non-VA health care to any veteran who can't get an appointment with 14 days or who lives mor than 40 miles from a VA facility.

He said, "This needs to change-that's why I've fought for policies that require accountability at the VA... and ensure that the VA works more efficiently and effectively for our veterans."

Senator John Walsh is calling on the President to form a commission "to review the VA and provide an action plan to Congress for how this nation can fully live up to the promises made to the men and women who sacrificed for our country."
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