Atlanta VA responds to senators' concerns

Atlanta VA Health Care System is responding to a letter from Sen. Kelly Loeffler, which voiced Concerns about wait times for veterans.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Atlanta VA Health Care System is responding to a letter from Sen. Kelly Loeffler, which voiced Concerns about wait times for veterans. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Delays in care get their attention

In response to recent letters from Georgia’s senators expressing concerns about the wait times for appointments, the Atlanta Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur says it is working to improve its services.

Several Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports this year highlighted increased wait times for veterans seeking VA services provided through private doctors. Many have reported delays, months long in some cases, for critical care such as cancer screenings.

Sen. David Perdue sent the hospital director a letter Sept. 25 asking about the complex’s limited surgical services, which have been completely or partially shut down for a year because of sanitation problems then the pandemic, and wait times, particularly for female veterans who tell him they can’t get appointments for mammograms. The letter also expressed concern about veterans being moved out of the hospital’s long-term care facility and away from families.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter earlier this week asking for an explanation of wait times longer than 180 days for 4,632 veterans, which the AJC reported based on numbers provided by VA sources. VA sources told the AJC the delays happen because of an appointment department in disarray, the coronavirus pandemic, and a rocky changeover to a new third-party provider of medical services.

The VA, in an email response to an AJC inquiry this week, said hospital Director Ann Brown and regional network director Joe Battle are reorganizing the appointment system. In the last month, it has recruited an acting chief of staff for the department, and appointed workers to deal with billing and employee concerns.

It denied that there are significant problems with wait times, saying patients are being treated “in the timeliest fashion possible." It said outstanding requests are mostly for preventive care appointments, which are scheduled months in advance.

The September VA documents reviewed by the AJC showed that there were 715 “high risk” patients waiting for appointments, and 5,458 patient requests for appointments had waited 30 days or more without action. According to standards set by the VA, patients should be able to receive appointments in 30 days.

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