Audit: St. Louis VA Hospital patients wait months for care

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - The St. Louis Veterans Affairs Hospital has one of the worst wait times for specialist care, according to an internal review just released.  The average wait time to see a specialist was eighty-six days.  That's the fifth longest wait time in the nation.

"Being able to review this data should help us not just decide on the scope or determine the scope of this problem but also to evaluate proposed reforms that the president has committed to," says Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary.

According to the audit, Illinois has also faced problems.  Nearly 900 veterans who tried to obtain care at Illinois VA hospitals were never seen.

More from CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An internal Veterans Affairs audit released Monday said tens of thousands of newly returning veterans wait at least 90 days for medical care, while even more who signed up in the VA system over the past 10 years never got an immediate appointment they requested.

The review provides a more complete picture of widespread problems at the agency's health care facilities -- as reported by CNN over the past seven months -- than preliminary findings last month that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

"This data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions," said acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over after Shinseki stepped aside.

Deadly waits

Reports of the sometimes fatal waits, with the VA acknowledging 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed care, sparked public anger over problems at the VA that have existed for years.

Despite efforts to address some issues in recent years, including reductions in backlogs for benefits and the number of homeless veterans, the long waits have continued for newly enrolled veterans to get initial appointments for care.

Reasons for the chronic problems include the increasing number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bonus system that rewarded managers for meeting goals regarding access to treatment.

14-day goal "not attainable"

The audit findings, covering 731 VA facilities nationwide and based on interviews with more than 3,700 staff members, said a 14-day goal for providing care to newly enrolled veterans proved "simply not attainable" due to growing demand and a lack of capacity.

"Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining the resources required and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure," it said of the deadline imposed under Shinseki.

According to CNN's previous reporting, managers in Phoenix and elsewhere used secret waiting lists to cover up the amount of time it took for veterans to get appointments.

"In some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable," said a fact sheet released with the audit.

At the same time, the audit said that questions it posed "were not worded to ascertain the reason that policy may have been violated," adding that its findings "cannot be extended to identify deliberate deception, fraud, or malfeasance."

The figures in the audit -- 57,436 newly enrolled veterans facing a minimum 90-day wait for medical care; 63,869 veterans who enrolled over the past decade requesting an appointment that never happened -- show the scope of the problem.

At the same time, both figures represent about 1% of the total 6 million or so appointments in the VA system now, and don't reflect possible changing circumstances, such as enrolled veterans who seek care at a different facility than the one where they first signed up.

Gibson's statement said the VA has contacted 50,000 veterans "to get them off of wait lists and into clinics" so far, and planned to contact another 40,000.

Steps taken

Other steps he announced included:

• Removing the 14-day scheduling goal.

• Suspending all performance awards for VHA senior executives for fiscal year 2014, which runs through September.

• A hiring freeze at VA central headquarters in Washington and the 21 VHA regional offices, "except for critical positions to be approved by the secretary on a case-by-case basis."

• A new patient satisfaction measurement program.

• Ordering an independent, outside audit of VHA scheduling practices across the system. This would differ from a review being conducted by the VA inspector general's office.

• Applying reforms announced for the Phoenix VA facility to others considered the "most challenged."

• Deploying mobile medical units to provide services to veterans awaiting care.

CNN first reported the extensive problems at the Phoenix VA facility, including an interview with a whistleblower who said dozens of veterans died while waiting for care there.

Changes needed

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the new audit showed "some personnel changes need to be made and some have already," in reference to Shinseki's departure and some top managers in Phoenix placed on administrative leave.

"It's also clear there need to be some management changes in terms of ... the procedures that the VA has in place to fulfill their responsibilities," Earnest said.

Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for a criminal investigation, and 21 senators sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for the FBI to get involved.

"This challenge requires resources that only the Department of Justice can provide in developing and assessing evidence, pursuing leads, and initiating active prosecutions aggressively if warranted," said the letter from 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Bring in the feds

The signers included Kay Hagan in North Carolnia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- Democrats from traditionally conservative states who face tough re-election battles in November.

Richard Griffin, the acting VA inspector general conducting his own review of the system, has said he regularly consults with the Justice Department as part of his inquiry.

A Justice spokesperson said Monday that "the department continues to consult with the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General regarding their ongoing review."

Declining further comment on an "ongoing matter," the spokesperson said the department "often consults with inspectors general on legal matters and acts on any referrals should they find sufficient predicate for a criminal investigation."

Griffin said on Monday that his office is now looking at 69 VA facilities.

CNN's Patricia DiCarlo, Scott Bronstein and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


  • Pam B.

    on the plus side, my brother in law was able to get in rather quickly to be seen for a minor health problem. while at his appointment, the VA doctors encouraged him to have an overdue colonoscopy where it was discovered he had stage 1 colon cancer. He was quickly set up for surgery to remove the cancer.
    On the more negative side, while visiting my brother in law at the John Cochran VA facility, i was horrified to see the condition of his room, with chunks of wall missing and an inoperable towel dispenser at his handsink! Two very critical issues that invite very serious sanitation violations! I also experienced some pretty low moral attitudes among staff members!

  • Michael Steinway

    They do not know the half of it. I worked there and the place I worked in the supervisor and most of her staff were stealing hours. They were clocking overtime and not working. They would call in for a scheduled shift and not show up but then come in and work overtime hours. Four persons stealing lots of hours from the government and when I told it was covered up and I was fired. I am a vet and was ran off the road and had a motorcycle wreck and went to their ER and was put in a room and never seen for over 8 hours. Sitting there, no X-rays, no scans, no nothing not even a drink of water and no nurse coming in to say anything. It is shameful.

  • Mascoutan

    “Reasons for the chronic problems include the increasing number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bonus system that rewarded managers for meeting goals regarding access to treatment.” – The VA’s budget has been increased every year, so it’s not that the VA doesn’t have the money. The incentive for managers to get bonuses is the first part of the problem. The next part is that the VA spends the money for new office furniture for management staff and NOT critical diagnostic equipment, like MRI scanners and computers – all of the those are outdated and obsolete. The final part is a shortage of qualified doctors who don’t want to work for low salaries – a HUGE problem being made even worse by ObamaCare. But the Dems don’t care because they don’t get campaign donations from veterans. They hate the military and only give it lip service to get elected. Obama campaigned on this issue for the election and promptly forgot all about the vets after that.

  • TheREALByeBye2TheRite

    So you mean these vets are getting the same treatment from their socialist welfare entitlement as most of us are getting from our benevolent and wonderful private insurance and health care?

    So let’s see – there are THOUSANDS of people without health care in this country, and THOUSANDS more who get inferior care of wait for months for treatments and appointments in the typically inferior American health care system of private insurance and medical corporations. But I’m supposed to worry about a few vets getting the same treatment on my tax dime?

    Sorry – until we make health care UNIVERSAL and guarantee ALL Americans access to health care on the taxpayer dime, I could care less about these vets, especially the ones who signed up voluntarily (which is most these days). So join the crowd of people not getting adequate health care today!

    You vets don’t like it? Then take a stand FOR Obamacare and universal health insurance for ALL like ALL OTHER nations in the world have, and you’ll earn my respect. Just want a welfare handout that others don’t get? Have fun waiting in line!

    Meanwhile, go ask Israel or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait for your health care. After all, that’s who you were REALLY defending.

    • anonymous

      I do not agree, I pay taxes just the same as everyone else, Healthcare after my service (that started long before Iraq and Afghanistan) is a benefit I have earned, I still pay a premium, deductibles, and copays for healthcare through the VA, just as you would through your private insurance. Im good with that, if I have received the healthcare I pay for. That is not the case.

      Furthermore more NOT every one of my brothers and sisters in arms are Veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan, so your comment on the middle east is not valid. There are many Veterans who just dont have the means to pay for private insurance due to thier service crippling them in some way, and should have quality healthcare provided to them.

      The affordable healthcare act (Obama care) is a bad deal, I can point you to seceral civilians whos healthcare rates increased 2 fold on the affordable healthcare act. Its not so affordable.

  • Tim

    Wait time isnt the only issues they have, I have not been paid INCAP pay since October 2013 because the doctors notes dont list everything wrong with my knee, I was initially misdiagnosed with a condition I do not have so I am only receiving 10% disability for my service connected injury, I was told by one of John Cocrans staff the VA imposes a 10 minute max office visit with patients , and in my experience that seems true, as Ive never sat with the doctor more than 5 minutes on follow ups. I do not feel I have received proper treatment as I still have the exact same issue I had surgery for over a year ago, and been pushed out the door. I have since been being seen by a civilian doctor, hopefully I’ll get results now, at least he listens to my complaints of my symptoms

  • Steven Sweeney

    Another lousy job by Obozo.Funny how those convicted terrorists at Gitmo get same day service, on OUR dime.But that’s the liberal scum of this country, denying honorable Vets and charging the taxpayer to give a suicide bomber priority.Throw in some billion dollar checks to the muslim brotherhood, and Obozo calls it a day.More millions to burn on golf or sending mooch and 40 friends on a luxury vacation, again on OUR dime.Only an Un American socialist commie (like BYE BYE) could support or excuse any of this.Between the priority given to terrorists and 12 million undocumented democrats sneaking over the border, Obozo has destroyed our healthcare and the economy.The party of failure will pay for it in November.

  • Carl Wilson

    I am not surprised! This is hospital is big contributor to the denial of claims for veterans. As a veteran, I flat out refused to seek medical attention at this hospital. The interior is disgusting, the customer service is rated at 0 out of 10. The patient care advocate is a joke! The staff should be brought up on charges to include the administration. I could go on with story after story about this hospital.

    • Michael Steinway

      You are so correct. I worked there and in the lab the supervisor and her little clique were stealing. They are racist and falsified documents and in the end fired me. After I involved the the union the union rep started feeding all the information back to the supervisor. That place is crooked.

  • Doug Knox

    Now you know why most Vets drive 2 hours to Harry Truman VA in Columbia. It’s night and day from that hellhole called John Cochran

  • MiMi3130

    I’m appalled to hear this of all VA Hospitals that have been in the news recently. But hearing this about a facility (St. Louis VA) I worked in many years ago, breaks my heart. As a long time nurse, I find this horrifying. While a nurse does not have anything directly to do with these long wait times, etc….to hear Vets talk about how they are treated badly and spoken badly to from the staff is horrendous. When I worked there in the mid to late ’70’s in the Surgical ICU, we took pride in how we cared for the patients. I never saw anyone mistreat or talk rudely to a patient. We were proud of the care we gave to our patients! I hope this problem gets resolved soon, everywhere!!

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