Veterans wait longer for care than civilian patients
Emergency room visits can take twice as long
By the government’s own estimate just last month, the average American waits about 26 minutes in a hospital emergency room before being treated. But on average, war veterans must wait twice that long for the same care at Veterans Affairs hospital centers, and a string of internal investigations suggests the ER wait times for retired troops frequently can last hours.
The disparity, documented in a Washington Times review of VA and Medicare records, is raising questions about why Americans who have given all to serve the country can’t get the same speedy care from the VA that they would if they went to local hospitals. Sometimes, the consequences of delayed treatment can be fatal.
“By the department’s own count, the deaths of at least 23 veterans throughout the country have been linked to delays in VA medical care,” said Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “This is proof that the department’s system for ensuring veterans receive timely appointments is in dire need of an overhaul.”
Veterans advocate groups are echoing Mr. Miller’s concerns.
“No veteran should ever have to wait for emergency care at any VA medical facility,” said Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The VA says its standard wait time for veterans to see emergency room doctors is one hour, but it refused to release hospital-by-hospital data showing the actual wait times for veterans when requested by The Washington Times. Even the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the federal government’s health care programs, couldn’t get the data for its national database.
The reason may be that the wait times could be much longer, according to The Times’ review of eight recent VA inspector general reports, which documented that average waits at VA emergency rooms can be as long as 10 hours.
According to research from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a nurse or doctor gives veterans a quick emergency room evaluation in an average of 12 minutes. But the average time a veteran must wait to be treated formally by a doctor is approximately 50 minutes.
However, several inspector general reports have indicated that the wait is much longer than average at certain facilities.
The department has set a target of averaging less than 10 percent of patients with a six-hour length of stay at emergency rooms.
A recent inspector general investigation of a VA facility in Las Vegas found that up to 25 percent of patients experienced a length of stay of more than six hours on all but one of the days in a week monitored.
Although the less than 10 percent target rate has been met in Denver, some veterans are spending over eight hours in the emergency department before they are discharged, transferred or admitted to the hospital for treatment.
During a 2011 investigation, the watchdog found that a majority of ER patients had an average length of stay exceeding nine hours at a facility in Memphis, Tennessee, and roughly 27 percent of veterans spent over six hours in the emergency room.
The Times uncovered eight inspector general reports citing patients’ complaints of excessive ER wait times at VA hospitals in Las Vegas; Memphis; Denver; Chicago; Baltimore; Columbia, South Carolina; Northport, New York; and Dallas.
Breaking an extended media silence on the controversy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told NBC News Wednesday evening that he was “angry” at the reports of VA hospital deaths, but insisted his department was working hard to fix any problems.
“I offer my condolences — to these families — for anyone who’s lost a veteran, any unexpected death in one of our facilities,” said Mr. Shinseki, a former Army general and Vietnam veteran. “What I want veterans to know … is that this is a good quality health care system.”
The White House has stood by the VA secretary, and Mr. Shinseki said Wednesday night that he had no plans
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will testify before a Senate committee amid allegations that dozens of veterans have died while waiting to receive medical care at VA facilities. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has also voted to subpoena Mr. Shinseki and his top deputies for emails and other correspondence dating back to April 9.