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U.S. Rep. Tim Walz visits with veteran Virgil Marble, left, during a visit to the Mankato VA Outpatient Clinic in Mankato, Minn., on Wednesday, May 14, 2013.

John Cross, AP/Mankato Free Press

Minneapolis VA defends patients' wait times

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • May 19, 2014 - 9:11 PM

Secret waiting lists do not exist at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center or at other Minnesota VA clinics, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said he has been assured.

But some vets face long waits for appointments, particularly for special medical services.

Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a veteran himself, asked for an accounting of Minnesota VA wait times after allegations arose that a VA hospital in Phoenix kept two sets of books for waiting lists, and that veterans died waiting for treatment.

The explosive revelations have sparked a congressional investigation and calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Multiple reports of alleged preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics have emerged nationwide.

The Phoenix VA hospital is accused of keeping delays off the books. A report from the VA Office of the Medical Inspector said a department clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., falsified appointment records to give the impression that staff doctors saw patients within the agency’s goal of 14 days.

“Our nation’s veterans bled enough on the battlefield,” Walz said last week during a tour of several Minnesota VA facilities. “They don’t need to bleed at home for preventable errors that could have been fixed with leadership and collaboration.”

Waits for special services

While Walz said there is no evidence of a secret waiting list at Minnesota VA centers, data provided to his office showed that some veterans have extended waits for appointments, particularly those in need of specialized services such as audiology and ophthalmology.

He said he is still demanding a full accounting of the data and scheduling processes to verify what he was told by the VA.

A spokesman for the Minneapolis VA said the medical center was audited Thursday as part of a nationwide look at waiting times.

“The data speaks for itself. Our patients are receiving care in a timely manner,” said Minneapolis VA spokesman Ralph Heussner.

According to the data provided Walz, at the beginning of May, 216 vets were on an electronic waiting list for the top 50 clinic groups at the Minneapolis VA health care system. That is for new patients who request an appointment anytime within 90 days but cannot be scheduled because of overcapacity.

Appointments for general surgery are averaging 40 days and 38 days for plastic surgery, according to the information provided to Walz. The VA’s goal is to set up an appointment within 14 days.

Nearly 80 percent of all new patient appointments at the Minneapolis VA were scheduled within 14 days or less, the VA said. The VA told Walz that 99 percent of established patients are scheduled within 14 days of their desired date.

Walz, who represents the southern portion of Minnesota, has joined other members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in seeking subpoenas for e-mails and written correspondence from VA officials about the Arizona situation. However, he has not supported the call for Shinseki to resign.

 

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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