Audit: VA incorrectly recorded hundreds of patient waiting times

Audit: VA incorrectly recorded hundreds of patient waiting times
© Greg Nash

An internal audit published Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) revealed that the agency incorrectly reported wait times experienced by veterans seeking first-time care from the agency's doctors.

The report, issued by the agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG), found that the Veterans Health Administration incorrectly recorded wait times in 2017 experienced by veterans through its electronic records system, resulting in inaccurate public reports from the agency amid its wait-time scandal. 

The VA has been under fire for long wait times for veterans seeking care since 2014, and last year began a yearlong audit of new patient appointments and consultations. The audit found that the Durham branch of the VA's care network experienced both high wait times in 2017 and a discrepancy between actual wait times and what was reported by the office.

"The OIG estimated that new patients waited an average of about 18 days, and 18 percent of the appointments for new patients at VISN [Veterans Integrated Service Network] 15 facilities had wait times longer than 30 days. This was higher than the estimated 10 percent that Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) electronic scheduling system showed," a synopsis of the report's findings reads.

"Staff did not correctly record clinically indicated dates for about 38 percent of the new patient appointments, which understated wait times by about 15 days," the findings continue. "Inaccurate wait time data resulted in veterans not being identified as eligible for Choice. With respect to veterans in VISN 15 who received care through Choice, the OIG estimated that the overall average wait time was 32 days. The audit estimated that 41 percent of the appointments had wait times longer than 30 days, and those veterans waited an average of 58 days." 

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE made reforming the agency and providing better care for veterans a central plank of his 2016 campaign, but surprised many when he decided to keep on VA Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans MORE, a holdover from the Obama administration, to lead the agency.

Shulkin has recently been at the center of tension between himself and top aides, and reportedly has cut off contact with top Trump appointees in his own agency.

In 2017, Shulkin said the agency was "laser-focused" on reducing wait times for veterans seeking medical care.

"We're focused on wait times, and things are getting better around the country," Shulkin said in April. "Where there still are wait time problems, we're laser-focused to make sure that no veterans are waiting for care."