McLEAN, Va. (AP) — Nearly 600 patients seeking appointments at the VA hospital in the District of Columbia are still waiting after more than 90 days, even though average wait times there are roughly in line with the national average, according to an audit released Monday.
The Department of Veterans Affairs conducted the audit after reports that some VA hospitals were manipulating records to hide excessive wait times that new patients faced in getting appointments.
According to the audit, 569 patients were waiting 90 days or more for an initial appointment at the District facility. That number was higher than average for the 141 hospitals identified in the audit.
The average wait time for a new patient to receive an appointment with a primary care physician was 39 days, slightly shorter than the median wait at the hospitals of 41 days.
The VA had set a goal of wait times no longer than 14 days for new patients, but the audit found that goal unattainable because of the demand for services and a complicated scheduling system.
Honolulu had the worst average wait time in the audit, at 145 days.
The average wait time in the District was better than in some nearby facilities, with an average wait of 81 days in Baltimore and 73 days in Richmond, Virginia.
Established patients had much shorter wait times for an appointment, averaging less than a week.
The audit indicates that the District hospital is among 81 out of 216 VA facilities that will be subject to further review, based on the audit's initial findings. The audit does not specify why facilities were singled out for further review.
Zachary Reichold, a District resident who served in Iraq as a Marine Corps sergeant in an infantry unit in the first months of the war in 2003, said the administration of the D.C. hospital is so bad that he gave up on trying to schedule appointments and pays out of his pocket to use private health care.
Reichold said he had good experiences with the VA hospital in Prescott, Arizona, but when his medical records were transferred to the District, it was a disaster.
"The care providers are excellent, but the people who schedule the appointments ... paperwork is constantly lost. My files were lost. The continuity of care was ridiculous," he said.
Trying to get registered to receive care in the District was a nightmare, with unsuccessful efforts in person and on the system's website, he said.
"The VA people were more interested in trying to figure out what they were going to order for lunch than in making sure I was registered to receive health care," Reichold said.
A spokeswoman for the District hospital did not return a call seeking comment Monday.