Audit reveals wait times at Oklahoma City VA Medical Center
By Christine VanTimmeren
OKLAHOMA CITY — Veterans in Oklahoma are playing the waiting game, and their health is on the line. A meeting was held Tuesday that revealed the results of a recent audit on VA Medical Center wait times.Many veterans say after they go through the VA Medical Center doors, and sit face-to-face with doctors, their care is great. However, the time it takes to get that face-to-face appointment is in many cases unacceptable."This is where we literally live or die. What are we going to do? What are our families going to do?" questioned Navy veteran Ron Black.Black served in the Navy under the assumption that when he came home, he'd have the healthcare he fought so hard for."Our instincts are, and we're trained to just say ok, but it's not ok," Black said.Now his health care is a battle on the home front, one he didn't sign up for."It's shameful that anyone would have to do it, particularly those who have stood a post to defend this country. It's just despicable," he said.The biggest problem Black and other veterans face is the wait times for appointments. After discovering the appalling wait times at a facility in Phoenix, audits were conducted at other sites, including here in Oklahoma City. On average new primary care patients wait 44 days for their first appointment. Specialty care patients wait 48 days and mental health patients wait 44 days."Sometimes we have to tell them we have other more critical care cases that are ahead of you, so would you mind taking this date," said Oklahoma City VA Medical Center director Daniel Marsh.Oklahoma City's wait times fall in the middle compared to other U.S. facilities, but veterans like Black say 44 days is still too long. The audit also revealed that in the last ten years, 170 veterans who requested an appointment still haven't been seen. VA leaders say they are working to contact each one of those veterans to find out why. In many cases, those veterans have either moved or changed their phone numbers.Wait times do get considerably better for established patients. The average wait time for established primary care patients is two days, specialty care patients wait five days and established mental health patients wait two days.Both Black and the VA say lack of funding is one of the biggest reasons for long wait times."It's congress' responsibility to ensure adequate funding for our VA. They have not done so," Black said.VA leaders say they are not able to fill staffing positions because doctors and nurses get paid more money to work in the private sector."We are constantly trying to hire additional clinical staff and recruit vacancies," said Oklahoma City VA Medical Center Chief of Staff Mark Huycke, M.D.In the last year our VA has tried to diversify by providing tele-medicine and online options for care, as well as after hours and weekend clinics. But the audit numbers don't lie, and many feel our veterans deserve better. Getting a timely appointment, shouldn't be too much to ask for."If congress had to have our healthcare coverage, the problem would be taken care of real quickly," Black said.Because there is a lot of criticism about whether these federally run audits are accurate, the VA says an independent audit is also in the works.
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