As veteran patients wait longer and longer for health care in Connecticut, at least one senator’s patience is running out.
“I want answers to the questions that I have raised repeatedly,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said Friday in West Haven, moments after meeting with local officials at the VA hospital there.
Blumenthal says he’s written three letters to acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson since June 1 and has received no response.
Indeed, recent statistics from the VA are troubling. From mid-June to July 1, the number of health care appointments made by veterans in Connecticut decreased more than 4 percent. Despite what might appear to be a decreasing case load, the percentage of those who had to wait more than 30 days to be seen actually increased, from 5.26 percent to 6.08 percent.
The trend from the same period among 141 VA facilities audited nationwide is similar. From June 15 to July 1, the case load dropped 2.7 percent while the percent of those waiting more than a month jumped from 10.29 percent to 10.65 percent.
“These wait times are unconscionable and reprehensible,” said Blumenthal, “They are a disservice to our nation’s heroes, our nation’s finest.”
Blumenthal’s meeting and comments came as NBC received exclusive statistics from the VA in Washington, indicating the numbers of “adverse events” at VA facilities nationwide during the fourth quarter of 2012, all of fiscal year 2013, and the first quarter of 2014.
Respectively, those numbers at the West Haven VA hospital were zero, four, and zero.
A Veterans Affairs handbook from 2012 defines adverse events as “untoward incidents, diagnostic or therapeutic misadventures, iatrogenic injuries, or other occurrences of harm or potential harm directly associated with care or services provided within the jurisdiction of the Veterans Healthcare System.”
Republican Florida Congressman Jeff Miller describes “adverse events” in more glib terms: “…anything from a death to serious injury that can occur because of something that VA did or did not do.”
Miller, who also serves as Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, pointed out that there is not enough disclosure from the VA about the nature or details of such events, and that the price is high.
“There are going to be times when things happen, and learning from errors and mistakes is the best way to move forward,” Miller said. “It won’t change the grief a family may have to suffer, but if you don’t learn from those mistakes, you’re bound to repeat them again.”
Like Blumenthal, Miller was unequivocal in voicing his feelings.
“Interestingly enough, this administration has said they want to be the most transparent administration ever, which has been just the reverse,” he said.
For his part, Blumenthal went on to call the scheduling system a mess, and contracting procedures a morass, saying efficiency must start at the top.
“I’m going to go back to Washington and ask that [permanent VA Secretary-nominee Bob McDonald] be confirmed immediately,” Blumenthal said.
He also said it’s crucial that Congress approve better funding to allow veterans access to private doctors, as well as more physicians on staff at VA facilities.
Some of Blumenthal’s most biting words were aimed at “the VA bureaucrats who aren’t doing their jobs or incompetent, or worse,” whom he says should be fired.