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Opening Statement of Hon. Harry Mitchell, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

 

Yet, our veterans can only take advantage of this health care if they can get the appointments they need to access it.  Unfortunately, too many of our troops are returning home and encountering long waiting times. 

When I was back in the district last weekend, I met with a group of Arizona veterans.  Many of these veterans expressed concerns about the long waiting times they have encountered to get doctors appointments. 

One local veteran, John Tymczyszyn, tried to make an appointment for treatment for a service-related injury he suffered.  John requested this appointment in December 2006, and his appointment was scheduled in late May 2007—six months after his initial request.  John told me that he continued to struggle to make appointments within the VHA and because of that difficulty he now relies on civilian providers for his health care.

This is unacceptable.

When we’ve tried to look into the problem and see what we can do to address it, we have been unable to secure verifiable documentation of waiting times.

According to a recent audit by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Inspector General, the wait times reported by the VHA are both understated and incomplete. 

The VA reported in the Department of Veteran Affairs Fiscal Year 2006 Performance and Accountability Report in November 2006 that 95% of veterans seeking specialty medical care were scheduled for appointments within the required 30 day period.

However, the IG audit found sufficient evidence to support that only about 75% of veterans had been seen within 30 days of the requested appointment date.

Furthermore, the IG audit found that schedulers are “not following established procedures for making and recording medical appointments.”  This means that we don’t even have a clear picture of how many veterans have requested appointments. 

VHA schedulers are supposed to act on a veteran’s request within seven days.  If this appointment cannot be made within the required 30 days, the scheduler should place the veteran’s request on an electronic waiting list.

However, the IG found that a majority of schedulers are not trained to use this system so they don’t use the electronic waiting lists.

But perhaps most alarming are reports that schedulers have been instructed to reduce waiting times by not putting patients on the electronic waiting list.  This attempt to reduce cases of long wait times could lead to “gaming” of the scheduling process.

The VA has discounted the IG’s report because it disagrees with how wait times were calculated.  This is unacceptable. 

I’m not willing to walk away from this audit over a disagreement about methodology.  This is a real problem that we must look into.

When our veterans encounter long waiting times, their conditions go undiagnosed and serious disease go untreated.  This is no way to treat those who have honorably served our country.

Furthermore, until we have a clearer picture about waiting times, the VA can’t improve the situation because we can’t identify problem facilities or effectively allocate resources.

It is time for us to do the right thing for our veterans and stop hiding behind unsupported claims that these servicemen don’t encounter long waits for doctors’ appointments.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.