Audit shows 100,000 US veterans face long waits for healthcare
More than 100,000 veterans are experiencing waits of more than 90 days for appointments at medical centers run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an internal audit released by the troubled agency today.
The survey revealed that a scandal over cover-ups of long wait times at VA clinics, during which some veterans are alleged to have died, was broader and deeper than initially thought, prompting a new round of recriminations from lawmakers and veterans groups.
The agency said staff at 76 percent of facilities surveyed reported that they were instructed to misrepresent appointment data at least once.
The VA said it found that in mid-May, 57,436 veterans were waiting for appointments that could not be scheduled within 90 days, while about 43,000 had appointments more than 90 days in the future.
Over the past 10 years, 63,869 new enrollees in the VA healthcare system had requested appointments that were never scheduled, VA said.
The agency said it was working to contact all of those people to try to expedite their care. With more than 1,700 clinics, hospitals and other facilities serving 8.9 million veterans, the VA operates the largest U.S. healthcare system.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed outrage at the findings, which deepen the political problems the controversy presents to President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats as they try to keep control of the US Senate in November elections.
"The results of the VA's report are appalling and disturbing," said Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat who is in a tight re-election contest in North Carolina, a state that is home to many military retirees.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner called the findings "a national disgrace" and said the House of Representatives would pass a measure this week to allow veterans to seek private care at VA expense if they were forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.