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Audit looks at wait time for VA patients

More than 57,000 veterans are facing a wait of three months or more for care at VA hospitals and clinics across the country, according to an audit released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The audit, which examined data from more than 700 facilities, identified 112 medical facilities — including one in Hot Springs — for further review of their scheduling practices following scandal at the agency’s medical center in Phoenix and elsewhere.

U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., issued statements Monday expressing continued concern with wait lists at VA facilities.

“Our veterans who have been made less than whole as the result of their service have earned the right to the world-class care that VA is capable of providing, both in the VA system and in our local communities,” Boozman said. “I am committed to ensuring that VA uses every available option it has to deliver on its mission for all Arkansas veterans who have earned this care.”

Pryor said veterans “deserve nothing less” than the care they have been promised. He has called for the Department of Justice to investigate criminal wrongdoing and is backing a Senate proposal to shorten wait times and provide more flexibility for veterans to receive care.

Arkansas House members have already voted in favor of legislation that would allow administrators to crack down on employees who have falsified scheduling records.

The audit report released Monday is the agency’s first look at 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found patients facing long waits for initial appointments with primary care doctors and specialists.

The audit said a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for health care and poor planning. The VA has since abandoned that goal.

It concluded more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them. That figure includes 268 patients at the VA in Fayetteville and 158 patients at the VA hospital in Little Rock.

The VA initiated the audit in the wake of allegations that schedulers in Phoenix and other medical centers manipulated patient scheduling to mask long waits for appointments.

Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.

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