WASHINGTON (AP) - Patients seeking care through the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System waited an average of 56 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor - four times longer than the department's goal.
A report released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs said the average wait time for new patients at other VA hospitals in California ranged from about 25 days in Fresno to about 44 days in Loma Linda.
VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. The department now says that meeting that target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.
The findings are part of a national audit ordered after a whistleblower claimed veterans were dying while waiting for care in Phoenix. In all, more than 700 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics were reviewed.
The audits indicate that accessing care is difficult for newcomers, but that established patients within the VA generally had little trouble getting in to see a primary care doctor in a timely manner.
Established patients served by the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System got an appointment with a primary care doctor an average of four days after their desired date. The Los Angeles system is the VA's largest and most complex.
Established patients served by the San Francisco and Fresno VA hospitals were able to get an appointment for primary care within one day of their desired date.
A similar trend occurred with access to specialty services and mental health care. New patients at times had difficulty accessing the system. Established patients were able to get appointments much more quickly. For example, new patients seeking mental health care through the Los Angeles VA waited an average about 39 days, but for existing patients, it was about a two-day wait.
The audit said 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter.