U.S. Senators call for action following VA audit
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is calling for corrective action after a federal audit found longer-than-reported wait times at a group of VA hospitals that includes Salisbury.
On March 2, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General released an audit showing staff at VA hospitals incorrectly calculated wait times. The inspector general’s calculations showed that actual wait times in the Mid-Atlantic Care Network were longer than previously reported. Veterans were waiting even longer for care at private facilities as part of the Choice Program.
In Salisbury, for example, there was a 23-day difference between the specialty care number reported by VA staff and the Office of Inspector General. The average specialty care wait time for the Choice Program was 64 days in Salisbury, according to the audit.
On Monday, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis said they have joined a bipartisan group of senators to request more information about problems found in the report. Tillis and Burr were joined by another Republican senator, Johnny Isakson of Georgia — and three Democrats, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both of Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana.
The senators wrote that veterans across the country deserve to be seen more quickly than the audit shows in the Mid-Atlantic Care Network, which includes VA hospitals and clinics in North Carolina and Virginia.
“The American public must be able to trust that the wait time information being provided by VA is accurate. That we, once again, cannot trust VA data is more than disappointing,” the senators wrote.
The letter makes a series of recommendations to VA Secretary David Shulkin. They include:
• Conduct a nationwide retraining of appointment schedulers, either virtual or in person, by the end of the federal fiscal year.
• Conduct an analysis of the front-end process involved in scheduling veterans for appointments through the Choice Program.
• Require an individual at each care network — the Mid-Atlantic Care Network, for example — to take responsibility for ensuring the scheduling process is audited.
• Identify a person at each care network to conduct scheduling audits quarterly.
• Conduct a thorough review of channels of communication used to publish wait time data.
“It appears, based on this audit, that incorrect information is being published without validation,” the senators wrote.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.
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