VA hospitals audit: 57,000 new patients awaiting appointments (updated)

A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois.
A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

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More than 57,000 veterans have been waiting for up to three months for medical appointments, the Veterans Affairs Department said in a wide-ranging audit released Monday. An additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor, according to the audit.

The audit found that four percent of appointments were scheduled more than 30 days after they were requested. At the West L.A. VA, that number was six percent, more than 5,000 appointments. The average time a new patient was asked to wait for an appointment at the L.A. facility is about 56 days.

The Loma Linda and Long Beach VAs did better than the national average on appointment wait times, according to the audit.

At Loma Linda, three percent of appointments — about 1,800 — were scheduled for more than 30 days later. The facility had an average new patient wait time of nearly 44 days.

New patient primary care average wait time

At the Long Beach VA, only one percent of appointments — about 650 — were for more than 30 days later. Long Beach's average wait time for new patient appointments was about 34 days.

The Long Beach VA did not fare as well in the audit when it came to how many veterans who enrolled for care never got an appointment over the past ten years. That number was nearly 2,200 in Long Beach. 

At the L.A. VA, 500 did not get seen over the past ten years, and at the Loma Linda facility the number was nearly 150.

The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. Examining 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, the audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking their first appointments with both primary care doctors and specialists.

The audit said a 14-day target for waiting times was "not attainable," given growing demand for VA services and poor planning. It called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials setting it, and then basing bonuses on meeting the target "an organizational leadership failure."

The audit is the third in a series of reports in the past month into long wait times and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide. The controversy forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. Shinseki took the blame for what he decried as a "lack of integrity" in the sprawling system providing health care to the nation's military veterans.

The audit released Monday said 13 percent of VA schedulers reported getting instructions from supervisors or others to falsify appointment dates in order to meet on-time performance goals. About 8 percent of schedulers said they used alternatives to an official electronic waiting list, often under pressure to make waiting times appear more favorable.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the audit showed "systemic problems" that demand immediate action. VA officials have contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off waiting lists and into clinics, Gibson said, and are in the process of contacting an additional 40,000 veterans.

REPORT: Nationwide VA Access Audit

FACT SHEET: Regional audit results for southern California/ Nevada

This story has been updated.