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Report ranks the El Paso VA one of the worst in patient wait times

Updated: Monday, January 27 2014, 09:40 PM MST
Report ranks the El Paso VA one of the worst in patient wait times story image

By Crystal Price
EL PASO, Texas -- A new report from the Office of Inspector General ranks the El Paso VA Health Care System as one of the worst in the country in primary care wait times.

The Office of the Inspector General reviewed 128 different veteran healthcare systems in the U.S.

Different areas of the VA were reviewed, which include patient wait times, mental health wait times, and registered nurse turnover.

The report ranked the El Paso VA Health Care System 123 out of 128 when it comes to primary patient care wait times.

El Paso ranked 118 in mental health wait times and 94 in RN turnover.

The El Paso VA Health Care System said they are doing everything they can to get patients in, in a timely manner.

"Our aim is to schedule veterans an appointment within 14 days of them making the request," said Sheila Austin, public affairs officer for the El Paso VA Health Care System. "According to our records, 97 percent of veterans do receive appointments within that time frame."

The El Paso VA Healthcare System said they have established a call center, extended weekend hours, and created online tools such as My HealtheVet to ensure veterans receive immediate attention for their health concerns.

U.S. Congressman Beto O' Rourke said more needs to be done.

"That lack of service is unacceptable to me," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke said he has spoken with veterans whose wait times have been anywhere from 100 to 500 days.

"There are a number of problems," O'Rourke said. "For one, it’s very hard to recruit, and retain doctors and mental health care providers."

O'Rourke is behind a bill that he said would help reduce patient wait times at the VA.

The congressman is proposing to allow veterans to go outside the VA system to get the VA funded health care they need.

"We are making it our focus and our priority to turn that level of service around and make sure that every veteran gets the attention, and care that they've earned and that they deserve," O'Rourke said.

At least 80,000 veterans call the Borderland home and many seek medical care at the El Paso VA Health Care system.

Shawn Bryan, medically retired from the Marines, is one of them.

"There is a huge frustration level that you can't get help and you can't be seen," Bryan said.

Bryan had an appointment at the VA ON Jan. 7.

He said a reminder in the mail didn’t come until three days after his appointment.

Bryan's letter was postmarked for Jan. 9 two days after his appointment.

Since Bryan missed his appointment, he must wait three months for his next one.

"It added salt to the wound," Bryan said. "The system is so back logged right now that it is almost impossible to get into an appointment."

If O'Rourke's bill passes, it would help veterans like Bryan get in quicker than the three months he currently has to wait.

"My brothers who are having a hard time sleeping, who it's affecting their family life, they're disfigured, these guys they need help they need to be seen," Bryan said.

O’Rourke’s bill has passed the House of Representatives and is still waiting for Senate approval.

Report ranks the El Paso VA one of the worst in patient wait times
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