OLYMPIA – New patients seeking a primary care doctor through VA Puget Sound in Seattle faced a wait time of nearly 59 days, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs internal review released Monday.
The report shows wait times averaged about 29 days in Spokane and 43 days in Walla Walla, indicating that delays at the state’s three largest VA systems far exceeded the department’s stated 14-day goal.
Officials with the three systems didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment on the first nationwide audit of the VA network following uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center.
A preliminary audit last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were “systemic” throughout the VA medical network, the nation’s largest single health care provider with nearly 9 million veterans and their families as patients.
The guidelines stating that veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment have been abandoned as the department has said that target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.
Established patients received better access to care with wait times averaging less than a week at the state’s largest systems. In Spokane, established patients waited slightly more than a day, on average.
In Washington, 777 veterans who enrolled over the past 10 years have gone without appointments – 482 in Puget Sound, 232 in Spokane, and 63 in Walla Walla.
More than a dozen facilities in Washington were visited during the two-phase audit process, and six were flagged for further review: Spokane, VA Puget Sound HCS (Seattle Division), VA Puget Sound HCS (American Lake Division), Walla Walla VAMC, Portland VAMC (Vancouver, Washington campus) and South Sound CBOC in Chehalis.
“The listing of these sites should be understood as a preliminary step,” the report stated. It said “further actions will be taken” after additional review.