VA audit finds continued issues with wait times

A new VA audit links inaccurate record-keeping to underreported wait times for 38% of new patient appointments. These inaccuracies affected veterans who should have qualified for the Choice program.

Eighteen percent of appointments for new patients in Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 15 required wait times longer than 30 days, according to a report (PDF) published by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG). But a calculation using data from the Veterans Health Administration’s electronic scheduling system pegged that number at 10%.

The discrepancy between those two numbers arose because of inaccurately recorded dates covering approximately 38% of the new patient appointments made in the network, according to the report. Those inaccurate records skewed wait times downward by approximately two weeks, affecting some veterans’ eligibility for the VA’s Choice program, enacted in 2014 for the express purpose of mitigating long waiting periods for appointments at VA clinics.

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Results showed that veterans in VISN 15 who did receive care through Choice fared little better, waiting 32 days for appointments on average. Wait times exceeded 30 days for 41% of the veterans in the audit, and among that subset, wait times averaged 58 days for a scheduled appointment. Inadequate procedures for tracking referrals and poor monitoring caused the delays, according to the report.

The OIG also found delays or lack of care due to inappropriately discontinued or canceled consults, which occurred at a 27% rate.

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Those findings come against a chaotic political backdrop at the VA, as rumors continue to swirl around pending investigations into VA Secretary David Shulkin’s alleged misuse of taxpayer funds. The resulting firestorm has led at least one GOP lawmaker to call for Shulkin’s resignation.  

As a result of the latest audit, the OIG generated 11 recommendations for improvements, yielding “responsive action plans” from both the VHA and VISN 15. The report indicates two recommendations have already been adopted, while the implementation of other action items continues.