Veter­ans wait longer for care than civil­ian pa­tients

Emer­gency room vis­its can take twice as long

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KEL­LAN HOW­ELL

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

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOGRAPHS

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.

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