VA’s new guidelines to cut patient wait times

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is taking new action to help veterans who have been waiting weeks – even months – to get the medical care they need.

The VA is immersed in a scandal that was touched off by accusations that patient wait lists have been altered to fit within agency recommendations. News 4 has obtained details of new guidelines the department has adopted to prevent what some are calling patient neglect.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Mark Golombek called it a “fiasco” in a controversial email he sent to VA officials and News 4, later admitting, “What I wrote to certain people within the VA, and to you guys, actually sounded like threats.”

Golombek was in excruciating pain when he went to the VA Medical Center’s emergency room, more than a month ago, but his condition was initially diagnosed as “routine.”

X-rays of Golombek’s neck and shoulder would later reveal damage, but the soonest the VA could get him in to the hospital for an MRI scan was July. Golombek was frustrated and angry.

“My status was marked routine, even after seeing me in way worse pain than this, and supposedly everything is booked up.”

That’s when Golombek sent out the emails that he admits were over-the-top, but it also happened after Veterans Affairs came up with new out-of-VA guidelines, and the 21-year Navy veteran got his MRI within 24 hours at a private radiology clinic near his home.

The VA has released the latest details of its out-of-VA care guidelines, called the Accelerating Access to Care Initiative.

Among the new guidelines: VA medical facilities will make a minimum of three attempts to reach a veteran whose medical appointment is at least 30 days away; if the facility is not able to shorten the wait, the veteran will be referred for non-VA medical care; appointments will be reviewed continuously, and moved up when openings become available.

Vietnam veteran Tom Pritchard says, some VA hospitals might have problems, but he has received top shelf care at the Buffalo VA.

“The hospital is a wonderful place to go to. As far as I am concerned, it is better than the outside. I have been to the outside and I have seen some mistakes that the VA Hospital would not have made.”

Golombek says, increasing the availability of out-of-VA care available should be mandatory.

“Why force somebody to wait for something that Congress is basically responsible for because of a lack of funding, when there is a million doctors that, sometimes they are their friends? Why not pick your own?”

In a related development, the VA’s Office of Inspector General released initial findings of their investigation that found 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona VA Center – ground zero for the VA scandal – have to wait an average of 115 days for appointments. That is 100 days more than VA guidelines call for.

Within hours, several top Congressional Republicans called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Clarence Rep. Chris Collins renewed his call for Shinseki to step down, writing in a news release, “It is clear that he is not leading the VA in a way that forces accountability to fix these critical problems and improve service.”

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