- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - The Veterans Affairs health clinic in El Paso, pinpointed as having some of the longest wait times in the country for veterans to meet with a mental health specialist, is moving on its own to fix some of the problems instead of waiting for a national plan, the agency’s local director said.

John Mendoza, El Paso’s VA director, told the El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/1mWPcv1 ) the clinic will begin getting patients help from private caregivers, create new appointment times and increase staff numbers in some departments.

“I know that right now when you take a look at the numbers and you see the wait times you may say, ‘Why bother?’” Mendoza said. “My response is, please give us that opportunity.”

He talked to the newspaper after an extensive audit of the Department of Veteran Affairs found that more than 64,000 veterans nationwide have been unable to get a doctor’s appointment. The El Paso center was found fourth-worst nationally in the mental health arena, with veterans waiting an average of 60 days to get an appointment with a specialist.

The audit also found that 331 veterans in El Paso have been waiting 90 or more days for their first medical appointment, and more than 1,100 have never received an appointment.

Significant problems also have been found in other Texas VA clinics, including in Harlingen, which has a worst-in-the-nation, 145-day average wait for new patients seeking specialist care.

Mendoza said the El Paso clinic has already started making calls to those on its wait list.

“Of the calls we have already made, we have had about 800 to 850 veterans that have already responded to us and said, ‘Yes, I would like to make an appointment,’ if they did not already have one,” Mendoza said. “So what we are going to do is we are going to provide them that appointment sooner.”

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Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com