Although the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced earlier this month it slashed wait times nearly 18 percent after a nationwide scandal revealed secret waitlists covered up long delays in care, more than 600,000 veterans are still waiting a month or longer for appointments, according to USA Today.
Despite the VA's emphasis on wait-time reduction, data obtained by the publication show wait times of 30 days or more at dozens of VA facilities for a quarter or more of patients. Additionally, at 64 facilities, the average wait time for new patients seeking primary care is more than 60 days. Those facilities include Baltimore; Atlanta; Jacksonville, Florida; and Temple, Texas, all of which have at least 30,000 pending appointments, according to the article. Jacksonville in particular has the worst rate of any major VA facility, with only two-thirds of patients getting an appointment within 30 days.
Meanwhile, the VA's record-keeping processes were so negligent that the department did not begin monitoring its number of unfilled positions until June of this year, according to the Arizona Republic. In July, the Republic filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for vacancy statistics at both the national level and Arizona's three VA facilities dating back to 2010, only to be told the information was unavailable by Veterans Health Administration (VHA) FOIA Officer Barbara Swailes.
"The VHA Central Office did not start collecting vacancy information until June 2014," Swailes said in a letter in response to the request. Phoenix's VA system was the epicenter of the initial VA scandal when it was discovered the system had kept a "secret" waitlist.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald has attempted to apply a personal touch to overhauling the system, making his personal cellphone number public, according to the Washington Post's Federal Eye blog. Since its publication, he has received about 900 phone calls or texts and resolved "about 25 to 30 percent of the issues," he said, "but the point is, we've got to design this organization so it doesn't depend on my cellphone."