The report includes recommendations for change, but notes that getting a handle on the allegations of gross mismanagement and misallocation of resources in Phoenix and elsewhere in the VA system will have to await the completion of a more thorough report.
As a consequence of the allegations against Phoenix, congressional Republicans, who have a record of failing to fund the VA adequately, have called for the resignation of the Veterans Administration chief, General Eric Shinseki, someone picked specifically because of his reputation as a straight talker with demonstrated willingness to buck the system.
Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin noted in the interim report's executive summary that since 2005, his office has issued 18 reports "that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care."
The latest abbreviated interim report concludes likewise, and includes disturbing details:
• At Phoenix, some 1,400 veterans were found to be on the center's electronic waiting list for a primary care appointment. That is, they had an appointment scheduled. But the OIG also found 1,700 veterans seeking an appointment who weren't on an EWL. "Until that happens, the reported wait time for these veterans has not started. Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process."
• Because veterans are not placed as they should be on EWLs, Phoenix leadership
"significantly understated the time new patients waited for their primary care
appointment in their FY 2013 performance appraisal accomplishments, which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases."
• In its sample of 226 veterans, the OIG found the Phoenix HCS had reported to the VA for fiscal 2013 that the average wait time was 24 days for a first primary care appointment. Forty-three percent waited more than 14 days, the report said. But the OIG's review found the average wait for these 226 veterans was actually more than four times as long—115 days—with about 84 percent waiting more than 14 days.
• Until it complete additional research, the OIG will not determine whether any veteran died as a result of delayed appointments and treatment h.
There is more to read on this subject below the fold.
The OIG recommended that action be taken immediately to "provide appropriate health care" to the 1,700 veterans not on any waiting list, that all waiting lists at Phoenix be evaluated by the VA to "identify veterans who may be at greatest risk because of a delay in the delivery of health care," that a nationwide review of all veterans on waiting lists be undertaken to ensure that they are seen at an appropriate time, and that a nationwide New Enrollee Appointment Request report be carried out to ensure that new enrollees have been given the treatment they need or are on an electronic waiting list to see medical personnel.
Since President Obama became president, the VA budget has climbed 50 percent from $100 billion to $150 billion. While that may seem adequate to the austerity mongers, those eligible for veterans' benefits more than doubled from 400,000 to 918,000 in the same period.
While money isn't the only problem at the VA, it certainly plays a role in how we treat health problems of the people sent off to fight our wars.
A big problem with the nation's defense budget is that it doesn't include quite a number of things that it ought to. One exclusion is what it costs to treat veterans, not just those who have already returned home, but the inevitable Veterans of Future Wars. It doesn't matter whether those wars are among the very, very few that are just and necessary or the majority that should never ever happen. We owe the men and women who fight in them the very best health care.
The situation at Phoenix may turn out not to be quite as bad as some have claimed. But the interim report shows that it's bad enough. The previous 18 OIG reports addressing the impact of the VA's recurring delay in treatment have apparently been an excuse by too many people who could do something about it to hit the snooze alarm. It would encouraging if No. 19 would finally wake them up.