WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — More than 100 Kansas veterans were on a waiting list for appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics for 90 days or more, an audit of the government’s beleaguered medical network showed Monday.
An additional 977 veterans in Kansas who have enrolled in the VA health care system during the past 10 years had never had an appointment scheduled.
According to the audit based on a snapshot of VA data from May 15, the average wait time for new patients seeking primary care was about 35 days at the VA center in Wichita and 41 days at the other two Kansas VA facilities.
The report showed 104 patients were on the electronic waiting list at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita. Six were awaiting care through the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, which includes the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth and the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka.
The federal department also reported that 636 veterans who enrolled for care at the VA center in Wichita during the past decade had never had an appointment. Another 341 who enrolled in VA facilities in Topeka or Leavenworth had not been scheduled yet for an appointment.
Nationally, more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have fallen through the cracks, never getting appointments after enrolling and requesting them, according to the audit.
Officials at the Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita declined to comment on the report.
But Jim Gleisberg, spokesman for the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, said the large number of veterans who have enrolled in the system — but who never had an appointment — reflects efforts to get members of the Kansas National Guard to enroll even if they’re not likely to use VA doctors or hospitals for years.
The eastern Kansas system will have to examine the VA data further, he said.
“Our goal here is to give the patient, the veteran, quality care as quickly as we can,” Gleisberg said.
Gleisberg also confirmed Monday that the top two doctors in the Eastern Kansas system would transfer to other positions within the VA by the end of the month. But he declined to elaborate on the departures of medical Chief of Staff Rajeev Trehan and Deputy Chief of Staff Sandeep Chhahira, calling them personnel matters.
The Colmery-O’Neil center in Topeka faced physician shortages that diverted patients to other hospital emergency rooms for months last year. The staffing issues prompted the VA to close the Topeka medical center’s emergency room in January.
Gleisberg said while staffing for the emergency room has increased, he doesn’t know when the VA will reopen it.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said Monday the official electronic waiting list cited in the latest audit is different from the 385 names the VA center in Wichita acknowledged to him last week that it had on an unauthorized waiting list.
“I don’t think anyone in the VA today knows how big the problem is,” he said.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement after the VA released the data calling for immediate action by the federal government.
“It is unacceptable that any veteran who has served the nation, and who qualifies for treatment at a Veterans’ Affairs medical facility, is forced to wait for an extended period before receiving services,” the governor said.
Charles Yunker, state adjutant for the Kansas American Legion, said he has not experienced any problems getting appointments at VA facilities in Leavenworth or Topeka, but had to wait six weeks before the VA center in Kansas City, Missouri, called him back to schedule his appointment. But in the wake of widespread reports of unauthorized wait lists nationwide, the VA has since offered to pay for him to see a civilian doctor. He declined and has since been given an expedited appointment later this month with a VA doctor.
Associated Press Writer John Hanna contributed to this report from Topeka.
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