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VA audit: More than 57,000 awaiting initial medical visits

FILE This April 28 2014 file photos shows Phoenix VA Health Care Center Phoenix. The Veterans Affairs Department says more

FILE This April 28, 2014 file photos shows the Phoenix VA Health Care Center in Phoenix. The Veterans Affairs Department says more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them. An additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA health care system over the past 10 years have never had appointments. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

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Updated: June 9, 2014 10:31PM

Nearly 900 Illinois veterans have requested appointments at Veterans Administration hospitals in the past decade but not received them, a national audit released Monday shows.

For instance, 494 new patients had requested an appointment at the VA hospital in Marion, Illinois but no appointment was scheduled, the audit showed. Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Maywood had 140 of these patients.

An analysis was not done on whether any of these patients may have died while waiting to make appointments.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs did an internal audit of 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics in the wake of allegations that 40 patients died awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital where employees kept a secret waiting list to cover up delays.

The audit also showed that nationwide, more than 57,000 U.S. military veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have fallen through the cracks, never getting appointments after enrolling and requesting them.

In addition, 13 percent of schedulers in the facility-by-facility report on 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment schedules to make patient waits appear shorter.

“This latest round of VA audits further confirms what has been shared with me by local whistleblowers and Illinois veterans ¬ a culture of corruption, intimidation and cover-ups within the VA that put personal financial gain in front of care for our military,” U.S. Senator Mark Kirk said in a statement.

Five Illinois VA centers were flagged for further review following the audit, including Hines.

At Hines, 97 percent of appointments were scheduled within 30 days on May 15, 2014, the audit found. That was only slightly worse than other Chicago-area hospitals — like Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center on the Near West Side and Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago — that were not flagged.

The VA Office of Inspector General is also investigating allegations of other problems at Hines and other facilities, such as falsified appointment schedules.

A spokeswoman for Hines said, “We take allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously and, if the allegations are true, the inappropriate behavior is unacceptable and employees will be held accountable.”

A preliminary review last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were “systemic” throughout the VA medical network, the nation’s largest single health care provider serving nearly 9 million veterans.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday that VA officials have contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off waiting lists and into clinics and are in the process of contacting 40,000 more.

The controversy forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30.

Contributing: Monifa Thomas

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