- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - New patients seeking health care at Oklahoma VA hospitals waited an average of 31 days in Muskogee and 44 days in Oklahoma City for a primary care appointment, while established patients at both centers had waits averaging just over two days to be seen, a federal audit released Monday shows.

The report by the Department of Veterans Affairs also found that new patients seeking specialty care had to wait about 31 days to be seen in Muskogee and 48 days to be seen in Oklahoma City. A total of 71 patients had to wait at least 90 days for an initial appointment at Muskogee and only three patients had to wait that long in Oklahoma City, it said.

Wait-time figures for the two Oklahoma care centers were generally better than dozens of VA facilities in other parts of the U.S. where there were longer wait times for new and established patients, but officials said they are still working to improve veterans’ access to care.

The report found that of the 22,595 total appointments scheduled at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee, 98 percent were scheduled in 30 days or less. Of 37,270 appointments made at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, 95 percent were scheduled in a month or less.

James R. Floyd, the medical center director at the Muskogee location, said the facility was taking steps to improve access to veterans seeking care.

He said the facility began seeing patients last July on Thursday evenings and Saturdays at the primary care and mental health clinics in Muskogee and Tulsa. Floyd said his leadership team examines wait times every morning.

Stacy Rine, a spokeswoman at the Oklahoma City facility, said the center would not comment on the figures until Tuesday.

Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a ranking member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee who is seeking re-election, said while he was pleased the wait times at the state’s VA facilities were better than the national average, he expressed concern the waits could get longer if services don’t expand to meet an influx of veterans returning home and an increase in demand for specialty services.

“This is more than just about wait lists. We must work to provide our veterans with all the options we can to receive quality care,” Inhofe said in a statement.

Iraq veteran Jon Goodman, 30, said he wasn’t surprised at the wait times new patients have to endure for primary or specialty care.

“Once I was in the system, they took very good care of me,” said Goodman, who lives in the Tulsa suburb of Jenks and works in construction. “It’s just a matter of immediate care because the system is overwhelmed.

“I’m not going to bash the VA system - they’re doing what they can with what they’ve got - but it’s not a simple process (to fix the problems),” he said.

Monday’s nationwide audit covered 731 sites and involved interviews with nearly 3,800 clinic staff and administrators to determine how long veterans had to wait to receive care. The data was generated from a one-day snapshot on May 15.

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