Ninety-six percent of veterans awaiting appointments at VA medical centers in Connecticut are being seen within 30 days, new data show, with Connecticut performing slightly better than the national average.
At Connecticut Veterans Administration medical centers, there were 51,281 scheduled appointments on Oct. 1, according to new data (based on a one-day snapshot) released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Of those, 96 percent – or 49,063 appointments – were scheduled within 30 days of when patients wanted to be seen or medically needed to be seen. There were 2,218 veterans waiting more than 30 days for their health care appointment. On Sept. 1, the number of veterans waiting more than 30 days totaled 3,712.
Earlier this year, VA centers nationwide came under intense scrutiny by federal officials for falsifying health care records, in order to reduce the appearance of long wait times. At the VA in Phoenix, Arizona, veterans died waiting for health care. The VA launched a number of investigations in states, pledged to reduce wait times and improve health care. In July, Congress found that efforts to shorten wait times at many VA centers had failed and instead had tripled at facilities, including some in Connecticut.
VA centers now aim to schedule all appointments within 30 days.
In Connecticut, VA staffs are striving to provide the best and quickest service they can to veterans, said Pamela Redmond, hospital spokeswoman at VA Connecticut Healthcare System.
“We’ve always been very fortunate in Connecticut” to be able to serve patients relatively quickly, Redmond said.
Wait times are improving but still need to get shorter, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said.
The new data show that Connecticut fared slightly better than the national average. Nationwide, about 5.9 million VA appointments were scheduled and of those, 94 percent (about 5.6 million patients) had been scheduled for within 30 days.
The Connecticut data covers nine VA sites. Of the 51,281 appointments in the state, more than half were scheduled at the main VA campus in West Haven. There were 28,660 appointments scheduled and 97 percent, or 27,674 of them were scheduled for within 30 days. Most of them, 26,350, were scheduled for within 14 days.
At the state’s VA campus in Newington, 19,532 appointments were set and, of those, 18,323 or 94 percent were scheduled within 30 days. Most of them – 17,319 – were scheduled within 14 days, according to the data.
Far fewer appointments were scheduled at the other VA sites in Waterbury, Stamford, Willimantic, Winsted, Danbury, New London and a West Haven clinic. At all of those, at least 97 percent of appointments made were scheduled within 30 days.
Blumenthal, who is a veteran, has been a vocal critic of the VA in recent months. In July, he put pressure on the Connecticut VA after records showed the number of veterans waiting more than 30 days had tripled.
“The wait times nationwide have been improving, as Connecticut’s have been as well, but they are still unacceptably long,” he said. “I’ve talked to hundreds of vets around Connecticut in recent months and they are patient and understanding but also dissatisfied.”
Thirty days is still too long for veterans to wait to see a doctor, he said. “Some (medical issues) are very time-sensitive and 30 days is too long. Some procedures are delayed for months,” he added, even though “the situation generally seems to be improving.”
A bill Congress passed this past summer, supported by Blumenthal, allows veterans to seek private medical treatment if their wait time at the VA is longer than 30 days or if they would have to travel more than 40 miles for VA treatment, he said. That helps the vets who get private treatment and is cutting down on wait times by lessening the VA’s patient load in some places, he said.
The new nationwide data show that most VA centers are seeing most of their patients within 30 days. A few centers, though, had lower percentages than were typical. In Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Virgina, just 60 percent of the 2,610 appointments scheduled were made for within 30 days. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Hobbs, Texas, about 70 percent of vets had appointments within 30 days.
On Monday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald announced a major VA overhaul intended to make the department more efficient at meeting veterans’ needs. He also said the VA has taken disciplinary action against 5,600 workers in the past year and that there are more firings to come.
Blumenthal said he is happy to see the VA implementing measures to be more productive and hopes Monday’s announcement is more than mere “rhetoric.”
“Now real action is required to provide nimble, world-class, patient-centered care and services,” he said. “I believe in Secretary McDonald as a leader and manager who will work tirelessly to implement these goals.”