A report from the Department of Veterans Affairs says the average wait time for new patients at the VA's Fayetteville hospital is 83 days, the worst in the state.
RALEIGH, N.C. -
An audit of VA facilities around the county has some bad news for North Carolina veterans using the system. Several facilities in the state have some of the worst wait times in the country.
A report from the Department of Veterans Affairs says the average wait time for new patients at North Carolina VA hospitals ranged from nearly 29 days in Salisbury to 83 days in Fayetteville -- the home of Fort Bragg.
VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. However the audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency's complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.
The department now says that meeting that 14-day target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.
The audit breaks down the wait times into several different categories, including wait times for new patients seeking primary care appointments, wait times for new patients seeking specialist care and new patients requiring mental health care.
The Durham VA ranks worst in the system for mental health care wait times, with patients waiting an average of 104 days. For new patients seeking specialist care, Durham is the seventh worst in the county with patients waiting at least 69 Days.
Last month, two Durham VA employees were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into "inappropriate scheduling practices."
For a new patient looking for primary care, the VA's Fayetteville hospital has the third worst wait times in the system, averaging 83 days; the average wait was 62 days to see a specialist and 27 days for mental health.
The Fayetteville VA Medical Center issued a statement Monday in response to the audit saying while the VA health system continues to face challenges in providing timely access to care, it remains to committed to its veterans.
"In a growing medical center such as Fayetteville health care system that has seen tremendous increase in new patients coming to VA for their care, this challenge is magnified," the Fayetteville VA said. "The veteran is the focus of our attention each day. In every site we want to provide the care that each veteran has justly earned. We remain committed to providing high quality, safe patient care, in a timely manner."
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, called the results of the VA's report "appalling and disturbing" and sent a letter the VA's acting secretary Sloan Gibson urging him to address the problem and visit the Fayetteville VA Medical Center. She noted that more than 157,000 veterans live in Fayetteville and the surrounding 21-county area.
"They require immediate and urgent action by the VA acting secretary to reduce wait times for veterans, particularly those in the Fayetteville area who face among the highest average wait times in the country," she said. "I am also concerned that several additional VA facilities in North Carolina require further investigation, and I expect full transparency and accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs as those investigations proceed."
The audit says there are four more VA facilities in this state that require an additional review -- Raleigh Outpatient Clinic, Charlotte Vets Center, Elizabeth City Outpatient Clinic and Wilmington Health Care Center. The audit report says its investigators have even more questions about scheduling and management practices at those facilities that need to be answered.
Meanwhile the acting VA Sec. Sloan Gibson says it is taking immediate action and has already contacted 50,000 vets across the county to get them off waiting lists and into clinics, and it will be reaching out to 40,000 more vets very soon.