Audit Shows Returning Veterans Will Pay the Price of Incompetence

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With the resignation of Veteran Affairs Chief Eric Shinseki behind us, the VA still finds itself ill-prepared to handle both the new influx of veterans and the backlog of care requests from older veterans. Up to now, it has been clear that lives had been lost from negligence while veterans waited for care, and Shinseki’s departure indicated a recognition of just how badly the VA is functioning. Now, an internal audit of the VA shows just how much repair and revamping needs to be accomplished before demand can be met with appropriate care.

The audit looked into 731 veteran affair service organizations and spoke with 3,700 staff members, finding that as of May 15, 2014 there were over 6 million appointments schedules in the VA, 57,436 veterans waiting to be scheduled, 63,869 who have enrolled in the system but haven’t been given an appointment, and that there are 57,436 newly enrolled veterans on the electronic wait list who will have to wait up to and beyond ninety days to receive treatment.

“No veteran should ever have to wait to receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice. As the President said last week, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systematic problems in accessing VA healthcare,” said Acting Secretary of Veteran Affairs Sloan D. Gibson in a press release on the audit last week.

According to CNN, a death toll of twenty-three veterans was confirmed for those who sought care but were unable to obtain the help they needed. Previously, CNN reported that documents showed 82 preventable deaths had occurred due to postponed treatment, such as late diagnoses from medical screenings like colonoscopies that were overlooked.

The recent audit targeted a fourteen day wait limit goal the VA had been using to encourage speedy care to veterans who were enrolling, saying the goal was a case of bad managing and leadership; the fourteen day wait limit was unrealistic given demand and resources. “We will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentive to engage in inappropriate behavior,” said Gibson. The report found that 13 percent of scheduling staff had been told to enter a different “desired date” to what was actually asked for, and that this was found to be the case at least once in 76 percent of the facilities examined. “Findings indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times … appear more favorable.”