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Maryland Veterans Face Long Wait for Care; Senators Visit Baltimore’s VA Hospital

Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin look into wait times at the medical center. Federal officials say the state has the fourth-longest wait for veterans to receive care.

Baltimore VA Medical Center. Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Website
Baltimore VA Medical Center. Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Website
Maryland veterans face one of the longest waits in the country to receive care at Veterans Administration medical centers, according to recent checks, as Congress works to speed up the process.

Veterans and Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin say the biggest hurdle is gaining that first appointment. The senators recently visited the Baltimore VA Medical Center to focus on the wait time issue and talk to the veterans who visit the hospital.

Lawmakers, veterans and taxpayers began to closely scrutinize access to VA hospitals following allegations this spring that 40 patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital, The Washington Post reports. Employees at the Phoenix location kept a secret waiting list to cover delays in medical treatment.

Phoenix is not the only VA hospital with a long wait time. The Daily Caller reports the Memphis VA Medical Center was also flagged after the audit. Hundreds of medical records were found sitting idly, causing up to a five-month delay in the system. The average wait time at the hospital for a new patient? 50 days.

But, Maryland fared much worse. Audit results showed Maryland as the state with the fourth-longest wait for new patients seeking a primary care doctor, according to the Washington Post. The wait time? 81 days -- five times the two-week period that the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department set as guidelines for someone to see a doctor.

Andy Harris, a Navy veteran, said the wait times are unacceptable.

“The No. 1 complaint my caseworkers receive is on issues with the Veterans’ Administration,” Harris told the Post in an email. “Wait times of this length are completely unacceptable, which is why we need to allow our high-priority veterans to opt out of a failed veterans’ health system.”

Harris is not the only one blaming the system.

“The administration system is an absolute jumble,” VA patient Elliott Gage told CBS Baltimore. “Close to chaos. Nobody knows exactly how anything works. It’s like the telephone company. They really don’t know how all the wires come together. They call it the machine.”

In the senators’ tour of Baltimore’s VA Hospital, Mikulski and Cardin both admitted that the wait time -- already long for regular patients -- is much worse for first-timers.

“The bad news is there’s a waiting time, a waiting list for new patients coming into the VA system,” Mikulski told CBS Baltimore.

But the two are hopeful that wait times will soon be kept to a minimum.

The federal government has allocated $58 billion to the VA medical system -- a $2 billion increase from last year, according to CBS Baltimore. Out of that total, $500 million is dedicated to hire more primary care doctors to service patients. The Senate has also passed a bill to move patients into the private sector for treatment if VA facilities cannot provide timely care.

“As the result of resources now being made available, the wait time, we hope, will be kept at a minimum,” Cardin told CBS Baltimore.

Nationally, Washington Post reports the audit which included interviews with over 3,772 VA employees between May 12 and June 3, found over 57,000 patients still waiting for an initial appointment 90 days after requesting them.
vietnam vet June 24, 2014 at 03:52 PM
The simple fact is Nothing will be done. it's only a veteran
Rick C Johnson June 24, 2014 at 07:07 PM
As a vet who was diagnosed with lung cancer associated with "agent orange" I was originally awarded future medical care but "Zero" disability because "Our records show you have already had half of your lung removed, and after it was shown to have spread to your lymph nodes your non-va doctors completed 4rounds of chemotherapy. The VA found that all this completed I was again 100% healthy. After 5 years and several appeals and several hundred pages of medical records later I am now rated at 80%. I can't begin to explain the long term physical effects of my treatment. But the hundreds of pages of medical records could. Again, the mental stress of 5 ++ years of fighting and continued denials and appeals HSS left me exhausted. It is no wonder the benefit caseload is so backed up. Their first course is ALWAYS to deny benefits. Resulting in appeals and further backlogs. Are there bonuses for denying benefits????
Steve D June 25, 2014 at 07:55 AM
Yes, similar here to. I filled out my application 5 years ago, went through some business about transferring my medical records from storage, that took 6 months, been waiting 4.5 years for my initial interview. I was told to get help from vfw and other folks to help get it through va, they didn't return my calls. After exposure to "special weapons" contents during desert storm I have a neurological issue, diabetes and am basically rotting from the inside out. I gave up on VA after a few years. I apparently have a couple presumptive conditions.

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