Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exchanged blows recently over the Department of Veterans Affairs at the 117th Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte, N.C. To audiences of more than 5,000 veterans, the presidential candidates talked about how they plan to reduce veteran patient wait times while outlining their overall visions for the VA.
This got our researchers thinking. Exactly what is going on with VA medical center wait times across the country? Have the scandals and the Inspector General Investigations into the more than 100 facilities led to changes for six million veterans being treated by the VA each year?
The June 30, 2016, Commission on Care report surveyed the overall status of the VA system. The results showed that ninety-four percent of VA facilities still cite a lack of practitioners as a major concern and a major improvement that would rapidly reduce appointment wait times. To combat the long wait times, VA hospitals across the country are hiring new providers, opening community-based outpatient clinics, enrolling patients in the Veterans Choice Program, and using telehealth - email, phone and video chat to communicate with their patients.
The Commission on Care report showed how the VA as a whole is doing, but it failed to show what's happening at each individual VA medical center.
In keeping with our mission to support our veterans, Inmyarea.com wanted to answer some of these questions and localize the data to show what's happening in your area. We analyzed more than 160,000 data points from the Department of Veteran's Affairs and other independent sources to determine which VA Medical Centers and Hospitals had the longest average primary care appointment wait times. We partnered with www.mybaseguide.com for this research, and their article on the 10 VA Medical Centers with the shortest primary care waiting times can be found on their blog. We hope this information can be of use to our veterans when they seek healthcare treatment.
Average wait times are just one metric to rank the VA medical centers. It does not reflect quality of the care only how fast veterans were seen for their primary care appointments.
- 34,690 veterans are currently waiting for more than four months for an VA appointment. Since October 2014, this number has more than doubled from 14,559.
- 525,712 veterans are currently wait listed for more than 30 days before receiving medical care. This number has swelled from 355,396 veterans waiting for care in October 2014 .
- Despite the promises of improvements, national level statistics have slowly gotten worse from a 6.43 in October 2014 to 6.91 in July 2016. Individual facilities primary care wait times can vary greatly from month to month.
- 0.0 is a VA reporting anomaly. This number reflects no appointments made instead of a zero wait time. This can artificially lower a facilities average wait time average. This can be seen in Fayetteville's results below.
Bad Luck? Just because you might get a long wait at your nearest facility doesn't mean you don't have options
The Veterans Choice Program is a new benefit that allows eligible veterans to temporarily get treatment from nearby civilian healthcare providers in rather than waiting for an appointment or traveling to a VA facility. It is currently being utilized by more than 250,000 veterans. You might qualify for this program if you meet one of a number of criteria including:
- Having an appointment with a wait time of more than 30 days.
- The closest VA facility is more than 40 driving miles away or you have to travel by boat or plane to reach the closest VA facility.
- You reside in a U.S. Territory or a state without a full-service VA medical facility that provides emergency services, surgical and hospital care.
If you think you might be eligible for the Veterans Choice Program, please speak with the VA to establish your coverage and receive timely medical care.
1. Fort Meade VA Medical Center
Fort Meade, South Dakota
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 23.56 days
Primary Care Providers: 27
At the beginning of 2016, veterans at the Fort Meade VMAC were waiting more than 30 days - on average - just to see their primary care physician. Recently, the staff reduced the wait times to approximately two weeks. These efforts were too little, too late and failed to save Fort Meade from being the slowest VAMC on our list. Even after the improvements, 17 percent of veterans here will have to wait more than 30 day to see their primary care physician. They recently opened a new surgical center last month, and hopefully more upgrades will continue to reduce the wait times for these veterans.
2. Carl Vinson VA Medical Center
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 21.29 days
Primary Care Providers: 17
After the 2014 VA scandal, the Carl Vinson VAMC hospital director was fired. Still, as of July 1, 2016, a whopping 28 percent here will wait more than a month for a primary care appointment. It's a 66-year-old facility, and 4,335 veterans are waiting a minimum of 30 days to see 1 of 17 primary care physicians. Even more troubling is that 371 Veterans are waiting four months for their medical appointment. Also, according to the VA, this VAMC has been directly linked to the records manipulation scandal - the medical center's director ordered an employee to cancel 1,546 referrals to civilian providers care without contacting the patients in an effort to meet VA goals.
3. Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 21.00 days
Primary Care Providers: 13
This 76-year-old VAMC has consistently posted average primary care wait times of more than three weeks for its 65,000 veterans. As of July 1, 2016, 16 percent of its patients are waiting more than 30 days for a primary care appointment, and 134 patients will have to wait more than four months to see a primary care provider. Last month, this facility installed 9,300 solar panels and reduced energy consumption from 12.3 million kilowatt hours annually to 8.3 million kilowatt hours. The VAMC staff says money saved from the solar switch will be reinvested in patient quality of life improvements.
4. Fayetteville VA Medical Center
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 20.98 days
Primary Care Providers: 63
Even though recent months have seen amazing improvements - maybe even too good to be true with this facility's recent history - wait times of nearly two months in Feburary, March and April plummeted the Fayetteville VAMC to almost the bottom of our list. At the 76-year-old facility, nearly one in five veterans here will wait in line for more than 30 days for a primary care appointment. Improvements including the opening of community based outpatient clinics, telehealth engagement and increased staffing have significantly lowered wait times for the more than 65,000 veterans living nearby in recent months.
5. Jerry L. Pettis VA Hospital
Loma Linda, California
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 20.95 days
Primary Care Providers: 30
Over the last six months, veterans are waiting longer and longer for their primary care appointments at the Jerry L. Pettis VA Hospital. Patients are now waiting an additional week for their medical appointments. Veterans also have a 1-in-10 chance to wait for more than 30 days, and as of July 1, 2016, more than 775 veterans will be stuck waiting for more than four months to see their primary care doctor. The facility was designed to serve 27,000 when it was opened in 1977, and its staff now serves more than 72,000 veterans living in a two-county area around San Bernardino and Riverside. A new 271,000-square-foot ambulatory care center designed to expand care at this local is currently being constructed.
6. Alexandria VA Medical Center
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 20.29 days
Primary Care Providers: 18
Long wait times in January through April torpedoed this facility's score, but in the last few months its staff has reduced the wait times by a third to 10.45 days. They've achieved these commendable results by actively recruiting physicians and opening the Lafayette Community Based Outpatient Clinic. As of July 1, 2016, almost 1,900 veterans are still waiting more than 30 days for their appointments, and 233 veterans will be in limbo for more than four months as they wait to see their primary care provider.
7. Batavia VA Medical Center
Batavia, New York
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 19.86 days
Primary Care Providers: 22
The Batavia facility has been providing care for veterans since 1933. It's affiliated with the State University of New York at Buffalo along with 66 additional universities and professional schools. In the last six months, wait times at this facility have steadily increased from 9.93 days as of Jan. 1, 2016 to 23.01 days as of July 1, 2016. Also as of July 1, 2016, more than 10 percent of their appointments are over 30 days, and more than 165 veterans are faced with wait times longer than four months.
8. Fort Harrison VA Medical Center
Fort Harrison, Montana
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 19.10 days
Primary Care Providers: 40
As of July 1, 2016, the Fort Harrison VAMC has 65 veterans waiting more than four months for a primary care appointment. Because Montana has one of the largest per capita veteran populations, and its veteran population is geographically, the VA Montana Health Care System is working with local civilian providers to reduce veteran travel and wait times for the care they've earned. They also constructed a new Ambulatory Care clinic that will see 4,000 of the nearly 8,000 veterans now receiving primary care at Fort Harrison.
9. Kerrville VA Hospital
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait time: 18.69 days
Primary Care Providers: 80
The Kerrville VAMC serves veterans living in South Texas and began operations shortly after WWII in 1947. Even though it's on the longest wait time list, the Kerrville VAMC staff has been making tremendous strides and reduced their primary care appointment wait times to approximately seven days over the last few months. We hope that trend will continue. This facility is part of the South Texas Veterans Health Care system and provides health care service for more than 80,000 veterans.
10. Nashville VA Medical Center
Average Primary Care Appointment Wait Time: 18.43 days
Primary Care Providers: 49
As of July 1, 2016, the facility had more than 400 veterans waiting for more than four months for an appointment, and more than 4,980 waiting more than 30 days to see their primary care provider. The Nashville VAMC serves veterans living in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. It's affiliated with the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the Meharry Medical College. This facility also supports a $26 million research program annually.
Inmyarea.com reviewed internal and external data sources. Internal data has been identified as such throughout this study, and external data has been linked to its original sources. VA medical centers were selected because they serve the largest number of veterans and would help the largest number of veterans comparing wait times. To calculate the average wait time for each facility, we used the Department of Veterans Affairs data for the 1st of each month from January 2016 to July 2016. Surgeries and procedures appointments were not included in the VA's data set.
1. Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/health/access-audit.asp, Accessed July 30, 2016.
2. Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/health/OurDoctors.asp, Accessed July 31, 2016.
3. Commission on Care, https://commissiononcare.sites.usa.gov/files/2016/..., Accessed Aug. 4, 2016.
4. Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, presentation to Commission on Care, April 18, 2016.
5. 38 U.S.C. § 7401(3)(A)(iii).
6. McKinsey & Company, Inc., Independent Assessment of the Health Care Delivery Systems and Management Processes of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Assessment E (Workflow—Scheduling), 17-18, accessed June 3, 2016. http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/assessme....
7. The MITRE Corporation, Independent Assessment of the Health Care Delivery Systems and Management Processes of the Department of Veterans Affairs , Assessment F (Workflow—Clinical), 14 and A-2 accessed January 1, 2016, http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/assessme....
8. The Department of Veterans Affairs: Office of the Inspector General, Administrative Summaries of Investigation Regarding Wait Times, http://www.va.gov/oig/publications/administrative-..., Accessed Aug. 2, 2016.
9. The Department of Veterans Affairs, Ten Things to Know About the Choice Porgram, http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/10..., Accessed Aug. 4, 2016.
10. Robert A. McDonald, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, presentation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, July 26, 2016.