The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

June 11, 2014

Unflagged VA

A review of wait times for new patients at Veterans Administration medical centers in West Virginia was a mixed bag.

Fortunately, delays here were not as long as in other parts of the country.

But none of the West Virginia medical centers for veterans even came close to the 14-day target for new patients to have their initial appointment with medical personnel at one of the hospitals.

Clarksburg and Martinsburg medical centers were both flagged for further review by the VA due to their average wait times of 54 days and 47 days, respectively.

The Beckley VAMC had an average wait time of 39 days, and the VAMC in Huntington was 29 days. Neither of these hospitals was flagged for further review.

So what do we make of this? Do we tell our veterans it could be worse?

Even in Huntington, the average wait time for new patients was twice the 14-day target. In Clarksburg, it was nearly four times the target.

This just isn’t good enough.

The audit found that the 14-day target wait time, system-wide across the nation, was “not attainable” due to increased demand for services and a lack of planning for resource requirements.

Increased demand for medical services by veterans is one thing. To fail to respond to that increased demand due to poor planning is mismanagement on a broad scale.

There are other issues for the facilities that were flagged for further review. Of the VA staff interviewed in the wide-ranging audit, 13 percent of scheduling staff said they were told to enter a different date than what the veteran had requested using the appointment scheduling system.

Such instances of “suspected willful misconduct” could be grounds for a formal administrative investigation.

Beckley VAMC Administrator Karin McGraw says she is pleased that Beckley wasn’t flagged for additional review. She calls the target goal “a moving target” that is proving difficult for VA hospitals to meet.

If that is indeed the case, the VA needs to square up and inform veterans of the true wait times they can expect before they see a doctor.

Evidence of a broad-ranging effort to hide the true wait times, the “suspected willful misconduct,” indicates a deeper problem with the management and administration of the VA hospital system.

We anticipate this isn’t the last we’ve heard of problems at the VA’s medical centers.

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