TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Newly enrolled patients seeking care at five Michigan medical centers for veterans wait an average of three to four weeks before getting an appointment, according to federal audit results released Monday.
The delays in some cases are more than twice as long as the 14-day target set by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011, which the agency now says is unrealistic because of surging demand for services. Still, the Michigan facilities did considerably better than the worst performers nationwide, where average waits drag on for months.
The audit also shows that 1,555 veterans in Michigan have waited more than three months for appointments at the VA centers, while 1,686 who signed up for care within the past decade have yet to see a doctor or other professional.
"Today's internal audit report is further proof that delayed care for our veterans is a national crisis," said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, a Michigan Republican and member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. "Our nation's heroes should never have to wait over 30 days for an appointment."
He said the numbers for several of Michigan's centers were better than national averages but still could be improved.
The report said three of the facilities - the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and outpatient clinics in Muskegon and Lansing - were among 112 nationwide requiring further review because of indications that data might have been falsified.
A spokesman for Sen. Carl Levin said the Michigan Democrat had asked the agency for an explanation.
"Although we do not know the reason for the follow-up visits or who will be conducting them, we will work in full cooperation with the audit team to address any issues they may have," said Derek Atkinson, spokesman for the Ann Arbor system.
"The audit teams visited our main facility in Iron Mountain and our outpatient clinics throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin, and they were impressed with our scheduling processes and our dedicated staff," said Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center Director Jim Rice.
"I am happy to report that 98 percent of all our veterans are seen within 30 days of their request for an appointment in our clinics," Rice said. "However, we will continue to be vigilant and proactive to make sure our Veterans have timely access to care. Every morning, our executive leadership team and other key staff review our access data to see if there are any outliers, and if there is one, we dig deeper to see if it is the veteran's preference, clinical availability, or other circumstances. We are committed to providing the highest quality, safe and compassionate care to our Veterans. I believe our employees go above and beyond to ensure a veteran is seen in a timely manner, and even the same day for more emergent needs, and to fulfill our motto of Focused on Excellence-Putting Veterans First," he said.
The average wait for a patient seeking primary care for the first time is nearly 31 days at the John D. Dingell Detroit VA Healthcare System, the longest in Michigan, followed closely by the Ann Arbor facility at just under 30 days.
Other average waits included about 28 days at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, 23 days at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain and 22 days at the Alefda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw.
Waiting periods for new patients seeking specialist care were longer, ranging from 35 days at Saginaw to 59 days at Detroit. For mental health treatment, the Detroit center's wait was shortest at 20 days and Ann Arbor was longest at 27 days.
Patients already in the system had much shorter average waiting times, the longest being five days for specialty care at Battle Creek.
Average wait times
By The Associated Press
Veterans Affairs medical centers have come under criticism for long wait times for care. Here is a list of facilities audited in Michigan and their average waits as of May 15 for new patients seeking primary care, specialist care and mental health care, according to audit results released Monday.
NEW PATIENT PRIMARY CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Detroit: 31 days
2. Ann Arbor: 30 days
3. Battle Creek: 28 days
4. Iron Mountain: 23 days
5. Saginaw: 22 days
ESTABLISHED PATIENT PRIMARY CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Iron Mountain: 2 days
2. Ann Arbor: 2 days
3. Saginaw: 1.3 day
4. Battle Creek: 1 day
5. Detroit: 1 day
NEW PATIENT SPECIALIST CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Detroit: 59 days
2. Ann Arbor: 58 days
3. Battle Creek: 37 days
4. Iron Mountain: 36 days
5. Saginaw: 35 days
ESTABLISHED PATIENT SPECIALIST CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1.Battle Creek: 5 days
2. Ann Arbor: 4 days
3. Iron Mountain: 3 days
4. Saginaw: 3 days
5. Detroit: 1.5 days
NEW PATIENT MENTAL HEALTH CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Ann Arbor : 27 days
2. Iron Mountain: 26 days
3. Battle Creek: 23 days
4. Saginaw: 21 days
5. Detroit: 20 days
ESTABLISHED PATIENT MENTAL HEALTH CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Ann Arbor: 2.5 days
2.Battle Creek: 1.6 days
3. Iron Mountain: 0.9 day
4. Saginaw: 0.8 day
5. Detroit: 0.4 day