- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The Veterans Affairs Department says 114 patients in South Dakota were waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them, according to a nationwide audit released Monday.

The audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, which looked at wait times as of May 15, found that an additional 569 people who enrolled in South Dakota’s VA health care facilities in Sioux Falls, Fort Meade and Hot Springs over the past 10 years have never had appointments.

Ken Laughlin, executive director and adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans chapter, said VA service is quite good in South Dakota, and he said the waiting list numbers could be the result of patients initially referred to civilian doctors or hospitals who instead held out for VA services.

“I think overall the service here in South Dakota is pretty good,” Laughlin said.

The audit is the first nationwide look at America’s biggest medical network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at a VA center in Arizona. The audit found that nationally, more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have fallen through the cracks, never getting appointments after enrolling and requesting them, the audit found.

Mike Mullen, of Piedmont, said he’s never had an issue getting into the VA in Hot Springs.

“I haven’t had any problem with it,” said Mullen, senior vice commander of the South Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars. “If I have to cancel an appointment, I just call up and reschedule it, and they get me in within 10 days,”

The nationwide audit said a 14-day target for waiting times was “not attainable,” given growing demand for VA services and poor planning. It called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials setting it, and then basing bonuses on meeting the target, “an organizational leadership failure.”

President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 30 and is actively seeking someone to replace him after the leading candidate pulled out.


Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ddlammers



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