- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - While figures released Monday from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show 98 percent of appointments in the VA Connecticut Healthcare System are scheduled within 30 days or less, better than the national average of 96 percent, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he still wants to see the supporting data.

The Democratic member of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee said he was disappointed the VA did not release more information specific to each individual VA site, something Connecticut’s congressional delegation recently requested.

“I welcome the numbers, but I want the backup, I want the underlying evidence that supports them - the real nuts and bolts data,” Blumenthal told The Associated Press.

The audit was the first national look at the VA health care network following reports of falsified wait lists and widespread treatment delays at VA medical facilities, as well as allegations that up to 40 veterans may have died while waiting for treatment in Phoenix. Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation recently sent a letter to then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking that the VA’s West Haven and Newington campuses, as well as its six clinics in Danbury, New London, Stamford, Waterbury, Willimantic and Winsted, be included in the audit and that detailed information from that audit be made public.

Christine Pons, a spokeswoman with the VA’s regional office of public affairs in New York, confirmed that the audit, a snapshot of data from one day last month, included appointments made at the two medical centers and six outpatient clinics.

The audit found the average wait time for primary care appointments at the Connecticut facilities is about 24 days. Additionally, it found 98 percent of 49,129 total appointments have been scheduled in 30 days or less. Most of those appointments have been scheduled within 14 days, the VA’s original performance target.

The audit also showed 2,120 people waiting 15 to 30 days; 677 waiting 31 to 60 days; 166 waiting 61 to 90 days; 111 waiting 91 to 120 days; and 44 waiting more than 120 days.

VA officials said they audited 731 “points of access” to services across the U.S., a process that involved 3,772 interviews with clinical and administrative staff. Blumenthal said he doesn’t know how the figures were compiled and whether interviews occurred in Connecticut because he doesn’t have the backup information.

“I can’t have faith in these numbers and give the VA credit for true transparency until I know where the data came from and how it was compiled,” he said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy welcomed the audit results, saying “Connecticut’s VA is a leader and uses best practices for scheduling veterans’ medical appointments.” Murphy said Connecticut’s VA can always do better, but compared to others elsewhere in the country, “ours is on the right track.”