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Blunt: VA needs to improve services quickly

Blunt: VA needs to improve services quickly

June 26th, 2014 in News

Problems with patient waiting times continue to haunt the U.S. Veterans Administration, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said Tuesday.

"Too many of our facilities in Missouri are too high on the list of underperforming facilities meeting the needs of veterans and the commitments we've made to veterans," Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters during a telephone conference call. "You're going to find many people who've had a good experience with those hospitals.

"But the goal is, everyone needs to have a good experience."

The VA medical care system became a major news item this spring with the revelation that some facilities had secret lists of people who waited months for proper medical care and that some of those had died while waiting.

Even though some veterans said VA patients have had long waits for years, this year's news eventually caused the VA secretary in Washington, D.C., to resign.

Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer at the Truman VA Hospital, Columbia, said, "The important thing that we've tried to emphasize is that we focus on what our primary mission is - and that's delivering quality patient care.

"So, we look at all of this information to help us do a better job of doing that - if we can learn from any of this, we're going to do that."

As of June 1 - the most recent numbers available - the Columbia hospital had scheduled 61,835 patient visits, with more than 95 percent of those scheduled within 30 days of the appointment requests.

But that same report showed the Truman Veterans Hospital with 531 appointments scheduled more than 120 days away.

In the previous report, through May 15, 208 appointments were scheduled more than 120 days away.

"We're going to try to do the best job we can for the veterans we serve, and we serve 37,000 veterans in Mid-Missouri," Gaither said.

He noted there are no statistics on how long patients must wait to see doctors in the non-veterans system most of us use for medical care.

"As a population group, veterans enrolled in the VA will come and, on average, they'll have anywhere from five to seven different conditions that they're dealing with, whereas in the private sector it may be two or three," he said. "Some of those diagnoses are tied to specific (military) things, like exposure to Agent Orange."

But the VA also treats veterans for other health issues that may night be tied to their military service, he said. And that combination can cause delays in getting some appointments scheduled and kept.

"The vast majority of the patients we serve are happy," Gaither said. "I can tell you, there are many that aren't (happy) - because we'll hear from them. People who are not happy are more likely to make it known."

Blunt told reporters he met last week with a veteran "who was there for other purposes, but who said, "I want you to know, I've had great care at the Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia. They're doing a great job.'"

Blunt said it's important for more people to ask VA Hospital officials: "What's your compliance with your own waiting list goal - the 14 days?"

But, Gaither said, that goal of seeing people within 14 days is an artificial one, "a number that someone pulled out of the air in Washington and said, "This is the standard we're going to try to meet.' And they knew that we weren't meeting it, but that was the standard we were going to try to meet."

He said many of the numbers released in national VA reports are prospective predictions that, among other things, don't take into account same-day appointments and some other information that are part of routine hospital operations.

"Frankly, I think we're beyond the time when we need to have a debate with the Veterans Administration about why they're not as guilty as some people say the are - and just solve this problem," Blunt said. "Everything they do is not bad, but everything they do could be better. Their job is not to defend what they do. Their job is to make everything they do even better."