With veterans' health facilities under fire nationally for allegedly altering patient logs to downplay long wait times for vets to see doctors, Los Angeles-area VA officials said Tuesday they had no evidence of data being falsified locally and no Southland veterans have died due to delays in care.
"As one of the largest health-care systems in the country, we are seeing longer wait times in some areas, but at this time we are not aware of any attempt to manipulate data," according to a statement issued by the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System's public affairs office.
"Currently, there is also no reason to believe that any of our veteran patients died because of delays in care. In fact, any veteran that has an urgent need is seen emergently. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and our 5,000 dedicated staff members will continue to strive for excellence on behalf of the women and men who have served us all."
A national audit released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the agency's scheduling system created confusion for clerks, some of whom said they were pressured by supervisors to doctor scheduling data to cover- up long waits for some veterans. The agency had a target of 14 days for vets to a doctor, but that goal was lifted in response to the audit.
Locally, the audit found that veterans wait an average of about 56 days for their first appointment through the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
"Prior to this national VA audit, VAGLAHS Director Donna Beiter convened with her management team to accelerate ongoing efforts to improve clinical access at the local level, create additional capacity where needed and retrain scheduling staff to ensure proficiency in VA scheduling procedures," according to the health-care system statement.
The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System provides care to 86,000 veterans, with more than 30,000 patient visits per week at 12 sites throughout five counties, according to the statement. The number of incoming patients has increased by 5 percent this year.
"This sustained increase in demand has led us to create more clinical capacity, offer innovative patient-centered approaches and leverage technology to reach veterans in our most rural areas. Our efforts to improve access to care are a continuous part of our operation, and we will continue to focus on enhancing access long after the current national attention to this issue has subsided," according to the statement.
Officials also said the system has also established Saturday clinics, evening clinics and early-morning appointments at multiple sites.
The organization has also put in place additional training for clerks to make sure first appointments are scheduled correctly.
In response to the VA national audit, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday called long wait times for veterans "unacceptable."
"There's been a failure of leadership and a failure of resources," Garcetti said. "Who gets punished when that happens? Veterans."
The audit was prompted following news that veterans left off a waiting list died while waiting for care in Phoenix.
Earlier today, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would make it easier for veterans experiencing delays in getting appointments at VA hospitals to get paid treatment from local doctors. A vote from the Senate is expected soon.
—City News Service