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December 22, 2014

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Long wait times encountered at VA Medical Centers in Nevada

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Sam Morris

The new Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas is seen Feb. 21, 2012.

Thousands of patients in Nevada's two Veterans Affairs medical systems waited 30 days or more for care, according to an audit released by the Veterans Affairs Department on Monday.

The report shows that more than 2,200 new patients at VA centers in the Las Vegas area and over 200 others around Reno waited 90 days or longer for appointments, despite the department's stated 15-day goal.

The systems reported average wait times of more than 50 days, according to the audit that provided the first nationwide look after reports emerged two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at a VA center in Arizona.

The review, which examined 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics around the country, found long wait times for new patients seeking primary and specialist care. The review also indicated that 13 percent of schedulers reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment schedules to make patient waits appear shorter.

In Nevada, 221 patients who enrolled in the VA system over the past decade have never had an appointment.

A spokesman for the Reno VA hospital didn't return messages seeking comment Monday. In Las Vegas, Richard Beam, a spokesman for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, said they're working to cut the backlog.

"I feel pretty confident that our staff is doing a great job with scheduling, getting our patients in on a balance between what our patients want, what is medically needed and matched up against the resources that we have to provide that," he said.

For months, VA staff has been calling patients that have been waiting more than 90 days in order to schedule appointments, Beam said.

Across the country, more than 57,000 veterans have waited 90 days or more for appointments and 64,000 enrollees have not seen a doctor in the past decade.

Despite the thousands of new patients in Las Vegas facing extended delays, the VA found 96 percent of all appointments at the facility are scheduled within 30 days.

At the Reno facility, 89 percent of all appointments were scheduled within 30 days.

The audit said a 14-day target for waiting times was "not attainable" in light of the growing demand for VA services and poor planning.

The controversy over long wait times and falsified records at some facilities prompted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30.

The VA flagged the Las Vegas hospital and a nearby outpatient clinic as two of more than 100 sites that investigators say need more detailed review.

Beam didn't have details about what triggered the additional reviews. But during the audit, one employee at the Las Vegas-area VA hospital reported that a supervisor "had given her instruction that was contradictory to the scheduling policy."

The VA said Monday that in addition to the further review, any allegations of intentional misconduct bill will be forwarded to the VA Office of Inspector General.

Beam said he has no reason to believe the issue in southern Nevada has risen to that level.

"If there's any issue that we think something more egregious has happened," Beam said, "We ask for a higher level of review."

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