VA chief: Wait times down, choice cards in mail |

VA chief: Wait times down, choice cards in mail

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Wait times for veterans care at VA hospitals and clinics have been reduced by 18 percent since May, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Thursday.

Average wait times for new primary care patients decreased from 51 days in May to 42 days as of Oct. 1, said McDonald, who took office in July. McDonald took the top spot at the agency after a scandal that broke last spring over whistle-blower reports of veterans dying while on appointment schedules at VA hospitals and falsified records to cover up the long wait times.

The 42 days is still short of the department’s goal of 30 days or less for a veteran to get a first-time appointment. Nonetheless, McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, said it represents “significant progress” as the VA works to reduce wait times and fix other long-standing problems at the agency.

Meanwhile, “choice cards” started going out this week to about 300,000 veterans who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic. Another 370,000 cards will be sent out starting on Nov. 17 to veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment. The cards allow those veterans to seek VA-paid health care from a local doctor instead.

The improved access to outside care is a key feature of a law Congress passed last summer to reduce patient wait times and address other problems at an agency overwhelmed by the influx of veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the aging of Vietnam War veterans and expanded eligibility for benefits as a result of exposure to Agent Orange and other problems.

“While more work remains, our dedicated employees are making progress to better serve veterans,” McDonald said.

He said he has visited 41 VA facilities in 21 cities since taking office, and has made 11 recruiting visits to medical schools to boost efforts to hire doctors, nurses and mental health counselors at the VA’s 150 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics.

Appearing at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, McDonald said the VA has taken a series of actions to improve services for veterans, rebuild trust and increase accountability and transparency at the agency.

Most of the actions were directed by a law President Obama signed in August — a week after McDonald took office — that authorizes $16.3 billion in emergency spending for the VA.

The law devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who cannot get prompt appointments at VA hospitals and clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or living at least 40 miles from a VA facility are eligible for outside care.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.