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Report: Veterans in Phoenix wait 115 days for health care

Christian Petersen / Getty Images News

Bad scheduling practices at the Veterans Affairs' health-care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, caused huge delays in care for veterans, a preliminary report from the VA's inspector general confirmed Wednesday.

The report, which sampled 226 appointments in Phoenix, found that veterans waited an average of 115 days for their first primary care appointment, and approximately 84 percent of veterans waited more than the 14-day goal set by the VA. The average is much higher than the 24 days of waiting reported by Phoenix to the federal VA system.

The investigation also uncovered multiple lists not in compliance with VA policy. When a patient can't access care in a timely period, local VA officials are supposed to place patients on an electronic wait list that allows local and federal overseers to track and prioritize patients with the longest wait times. The lists found by the inspector general, however, were separate from the official electronic list and fell outside the view of the federal VA system and, therefore, its oversight.

As a result, the inspector general identified 1,700 veterans who were waiting for care but not found on the VA's official electronic wait list.

In response to the findings, the inspector general called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to immediately take action that would allow the 1,700 waiting veterans to get care. The report also asked Shinseki to undertake a broad review of the Phoenix health-care system and initiate a nationwide review of all veterans waiting for appointments.

Shinseki pledged in a statement to carry out the report's recommendations.

"We will aggressively and fully implement the remaining OIG [Office of Inspector General] recommendations to ensure that we contact every single Veteran identified by the OIG," Shinseki said. "I have directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to complete a nation-wide access review to ensure a full understanding of VA's policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care. Further, we are accelerating access to care throughout our system and in communities where Veterans reside."

The inspector general's findings support some of the allegations leveled against Phoenix officials in recent weeks. As CNN reported in April, Phoenix officials allegedly operated a secret wait list that kept thousands of waiting patients off the books.

The secret list would have allowed Phoenix officials to report considerably better wait times to federal overseers, since the patients waiting the longest didn't show up on the official wait list. The list would also, however, let Phoenix officials delay care for thousands of veterans — and it allegedly led to the deaths of 40 veterans who never got necessary care.

The preliminary report did not capture how many veterans died while waiting for care in the Phoenix system. The inspector general said investigations into that issue are still ongoing.

For more information on the VA scandal, read Vox's explainer here.

Update: This post was updated on May 28 with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's statement.