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VA Medical Center American Lake flagged for review

Lakewood VA facility in the spotlight

The American Lake VA is one of seven hospitals in Washington state requiring further review on “patient wait lists.” Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Earlier this week, the Veterans Health Administration released the complete results of an internal system-wide audit of its 731 facilities.

Closer to home, the reported showed that the Veterans Affairs Hospital at American Lake was flagged for further review.

The Office of the Inspector General conducted the audit.

The OIG's report found an average wait time for VA facilities in Washington state to be 58 days for new primary care patients. That finding is lower than the national average of 90 days.

The audit also pointed out that about one-third of the appointment schedulers surveyed at the Lakewood and Seattle based VA hospitals were instructed to change how long veterans waited for their appointments.

Officials at both the American Lake and Seattle VA Hospitals did not return requests for comment.

In April of this year CNN reported that schedulers at the Phoenix, Arizona, Veterans Health Administration, were using unofficial lists - secret wait lists - to make waiting times for patient care appear more favorable.

At least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA.

VA officials in the Pacific Northwest said initially in May shortly after the scandal began that their facilities did not have any problems with wait time statistics being manipulated to look better than they were.

The audit suggests otherwise.

"An average wait of 28 to 58 days for VA care in Washington State is unacceptable," wrote Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, in a press release.

"I am especially concerned by the number of facilities that serve Washington State veterans that have been flagged for further review and investigation.  This information confirms what I have been hearing from so many veterans who are struggling with extended wait times in the Pacific Northwest," added Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. in a separate release.

In June, the VA released the preliminary report confirming that officials at the Phoenix VA medical center had misreported data on delays in care.

The report indicated that the falsification of wait time records was common practice in VA, and it led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

At that time, VA Northwest Director Lawrence Carroll told employees in a memo that based on preliminary report auditors had "found no evidence of secret waiting lists."

Since then, however, more detailed information has come to light suggesting that there may have been wait lists in the Puget Sound VA facilities.

Findings indicate that 33 percent of the VA Puget Sound staffers surveyed were told to manipulate data.  This is higher than the national average of 13 percent.

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, called the new information "deeply disturbing," and he plans on soon visiting the American Lake VA facility.

Wednesday, the House of Representatives signed off on a $17 billion bipartisan measure to address the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs over patient death and long wait times.

The Senate could pass the measure by the end of the week, before lawmakers leave for their annual August recess.

"Veterans who faced roadblocks just to see a doctor should get the care and benefits they've earned," wrote Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.

"Only then can we fulfill our obligation to - and regain the confidence of - America's veterans and their families."

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