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Military & Veterans' Issues

South Texas VA Touts Improved Patient Wait Times

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AARON SCHRANK/TPR
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Officials in the South Texas Veterans Affairs health care system say patient wait times have improved, but could be better.  

Eleven percent of South Texas patients are currently waiting more than 30 days for an appointment. The VA says that’s down from 21 percent in November—the second highest rate of any VA in the country.

The health care system credits the hiring of 75 patient schedulers this year as well as improvements to the Veterans Choice Program which began in 2014.  That program allows patients who can’t get appointments within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA hopsital to see doctors outside the VA system.

Two years ago, a whistleblower claimed he and others were asked to falsify wait time data in San Antonio. An investigation found data was manipulated, but did not blame higher- ups.

That came amid a nationwide scandal over falsified wait time records that ultimately led to the resignation of VA secretary Eric Shinseki.

South Texas VA director Robert Walton acknowledged past problems, but says things have changed.

“I don’t think we have that issue currently,” says Walton. “I mean, we do scheduling audits. We do find errors in audits. I won’t say we don’t, because that’s the reason we have the audits.”

And Walton says new scheduling clerks are less likely to make errors.

“They’re required to go through extensive training to make sure they’re scheduling correctly,” says Walton. “Much more training than they’ve had to go through in the past.”

But the challenges continue. The number of patients seen by the South Texas VA has increased 14 percent in three years and more space is needed to meet demand. A 65,000-square foot mental health facility is in the works in San Antonio.

Veterans who do have issues getting care are encouraged to contact patient advocates at the VA by calling 210-949-3822.