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New VA backlog emerges: Many veterans waiting for health care

It's no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a lengthy backlog of claims from veterans who are seeking VA disability benefits. The department's efforts to reduce the number of claims that have been pending for more than 125 days have been in the news for months. In recent weeks, however, reports of a different disturbing backlog have emerged.

News is emerging of extended wait times for veterans who need health care at a number of VA facilities. In Arizona, a whistle blower claimed that veterans waited up to 21 months for care at a VA hospital. Up to 40 veterans died while they were waiting for treatment. Doctors at other hospitals also came forward with information about long wait times. Claims emerged that wait-time data was manipulated to make hospitals look more efficient.

A VA audit found that the issues extend beyond the VA facility in Phoenix. During a three-week audit, the VA found reviewed the scheduling practices of 731 VA clinics. It found that more than 57,000 veterans nationwide had waited more than 90 days for a checkup after making an initial appointment. Another 64,000 veterans enrolled in the VA health care system but never got medical appointments. Up to 13 percent of schedulers said they had been told to falsify appointment dates.

VA Secretary Eric Shineski resigned as a result of the allegations. Lawmakers are grappling with ways to fix the problems at the VA, and the VA said it would send more veterans to private care. According to VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, the VA  contacted 50,000 veterans who were on waitlists and is working to get them into clinics.

For veterans who already face delays and struggles getting approved for disability benefits, long wait times for health care is one more obstacle toward obtaining the health care and compensation they need.

Source: ABC News, "VA Audit Finds 100,000 Veterans Waiting for Health Care," Luis Martinez, June 9, 2014; Fox News, "Shinseki resigns over growing VA scandal," May 30, 2014; ABC News, "Veterans Affairs Scandal: What You Need To Know," Erin Dooley, May 29, 2014.

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