- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The average wait time for new patients seeking a primary care doctor at the VA Center in Cheyenne is more than 32 days - more than twice the limit the Department of Veterans Affairs had set as a goal, according to a report released Monday by the agency.

The VA facility in Sheridan also exceeded the goal, with an average wait time of over 45 days for new patients to see a doctor. The data was part of a national audit.

The audit found that the Cheyenne VA hospital requires further review.

The VA recently abandoned guidelines that veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. The department has since said that meeting that target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.

According to the audit, 13 percent of VA schedulers across the country reported getting instructions from supervisors or others to falsify appointment dates in order to meet the appointment goals.

The audit follows reports in recent months that patients had died while awaiting medical care at a VA center in Arizona. The audit found long wait times at hundreds of VA hospitals and clinics across the country for patients seeking their first appointments with both primary care doctors and specialists.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., on Monday announced that he had joined 19 Senate colleagues in calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing at VA medical facilities.

“Evidence of secret waiting times, falsification of records, destruction of documents, and other potential criminal wrongdoing has appalled and angered the nation, and imperiled trust and confidence in the Veterans Health Administration,” the senators’ letter states.

“While we commend and appreciate the (Inspector General’s) pursuit of his inquiry, an effective and prompt criminal investigation must inevitably involve the resources of the Department of Justice, including the FBI,” the letter says.

Barrasso as well as Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., last month wrote to former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki expressing concern about the scheduling issues at the Cheyenne VA hospital.

Shinseki resigned May 30 over the controversy over veterans facing delays in seeking medical care.

In their letter, all three members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation told Shinseki that Dr. Cynthia McCormack, director of the Cheyenne VA, had written to them in early May that there had been no intent or attempt to manipulate waiting times at the hospital. However, the delegation stated only that days after they received McCormack’s letter, an email written by a hospital employee surfaced acknowledging practices there that were “gaming the system.”

Cheyenne VA spokeswoman Patricia Hill said Monday that the agency is reviewing the audit findings and redoubling its efforts. “Overall, our veterans are very happy with their care,” she said.

Hill emphasized the report found that 97 percent of its appointments for all its clients are scheduled in under 30 days. “The other 3 percent, those are because of veterans’ preference and provider input,” she said.

Hill said the employee email talking about “gaming the system” is part of the ongoing investigation and said she couldn’t discuss it further. She said she’s not aware of falsification of records of veteran waiting times at the hospital.



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