PLAINS TWP. — The local Veterans Affairs Medical Center has not experienced the extensive delays and wait lists that other VA centers have been experiencing.
According to a report released Monday, the Wilkes-Barre, Coatesville and Erie Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers scheduled 99 percent of all appointments in under 30 days, compared with 98 percent in Pittsburgh and 94 percent in Philadelphia.
The audit found that several VA centers in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, will require additional review and further actions.
Jason Cave, public affairs officer at the local VA center, said the facility continues to improve access to its services through the VA’s accelerating care initiative.
“When we have identified major issues, we resolve them as soon as possible,” Cave said. “And we always encourage anyone in need of an appointment or who has concerns about care to contact us. We have an aggressive staff that works every day to alleviate any issue.”
Cave said sometimes veterans request appointments be scheduled weeks out due to personal commitments.
“We’re doing everything we can to improve access and care,” Cave said. “We support the national initiative to improve service.”
According to an Associated Press story, new data released Monday noted that VA guidelines, since abandoned, said veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. The department has since said meeting that target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.
Nationally, more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments after 90 days, and an additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA health care system in the last decade have never been seen, the AP story said.
AP said that among Pennsylvania’s Veterans Affairs facilities, Philadelphia’s medical center has the most new enrollees waiting at least two months for an appointment, according to an audit released Monday.
The Philadelphia VA had 1,141 new enrollees wait more than 60 days for an appointment, while Pittsburgh had 443. But Pittsburgh had the longest wait time for new enrollees, at almost 60 days. The figure for Philadelphia was about 43 days, while Erie was 21.
The VA released the nationwide audit Monday, the first look at its network in the uproar that began with reports of patients dying while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA center. The audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking first appointments.
Several other states fared far worse than the Pennsylvania clinics. The VA in Honolulu, Hawaii, had the longest wait at 145 days, followed by Harlingen, Texas, at 85 days and Fayetteville, North Carolina, at 83 days.
But the Erie VA was fifth worst in the nation in scheduling mental health care for new patients, at 57 days. Durham, North Carolina, was the worst at 104 days.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told the AP that the audit showed “systemic problems” that demand immediate action.
Gov. Tom Corbett weighed in on the issue via an emailed news release on Monday.
“I am deeply concerned about the reported long wait times that many of our military veterans are facing at federal VA facilities across the nation, and am troubled that six audited federal VA facilities in Pennsylvania have been identified as needing ‘further review,’” he noted.
He went on to state that he and five other governors have sent a letter to President Barack Obama offering help in addressing the veterans health care problem “by allowing states to conduct reviews of VHA facilities and recommend solutions by those outside of the current failed system.”