More than a year after Americans were shocked to learn that our veterans were getting sicker while stuck on long waiting lists and many died waiting for the medical care they were promised, little progress has been made according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
“Nearly 894,000 appointments completed at VA medical facilities from Aug. 1 to Feb. 28 failed to meet the health system's timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days. More than a quarter of those appointments involved a delay of longer than 60 days,” the news service reports.
The numbers are especially disappointing because last summer Congress dumped an extra $16.3 billion into the agency’s budget in an effort to free up the log jam of medical appointments at VA facilities. The additional money was earmarked to hire more doctors, open more clinics and create the new Choice program which allows vets to seek private-sector health care in some situations. But in examining six months of appointment data at 940 individual VA facilities, the data reveals that the VA is falling behind as demand rises for its services.
In defending itself, the VA points to that rising demand. "I think what we are seeing is that as we improve access, more veterans are coming," Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said. "We are doing a whole series of things — the right things, I believe — to deal with the immediate issue," Gibson said. "But we need an intermediate term plan that moves us ahead a quantum leap, so that we don't continue over the next three or four years just trying to stay up. We've got to get ahead of demand."
Of course, the delays are not equal across all VA facilities. The worst problems are clustered in a few southern states where a large number of military bases are located which means greater demand. “In the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Coast states, few VA sites reported having significant delays,” the AP reports.