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Report: 600,000 vets wait for care

A new report obtained by USA Today shows that one in ten patients continue to wait a month or longer for appointments.
U.S. soldiers are pictured. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)
U.S. soldiers are pictured.

Despite Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald attesting to reduced wait times at VA hospitals and clinics, a new report obtained by USA Today shows that one in 10 patients continue to wait a month or longer for appointments.

Wait times of a month or longer have continued for more than 600,000 veterans under the department’s care, while the most severely affected veterans -- those waiting more than four months for an appointment -- have decreased by around 80%, from 120,000 cases in May down to 23,000 in October, the report found. 

"VA's goal continues to be to provide timely, high-quality healthcare for veterans," VA spokesman James Hutton said in a statement. "Veterans and VA employees nationwide understand the need for reform, and VA is committed to putting these reforms into place. And while we have significantly improved capacity and access to care, we have not yet achieved our intended state — systemic and timely access across the board. It will be an ongoing and significant effort to reach our goals."

Last Tuesday on "Morning Joe," McDonald applauded improvements at the VA, saying “We’ve got wait times down for appointments for veterans by 18% nationally. We’ve got disability claims backlog down by 60%. Homelessness is down by 33 percent."

An ongoing investigation into the department’s handling of veterans health care has revealed widespread backlogs, with veterans waiting more than four months for an appointment. The crisis forced former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to retire in May. More than 100 investigations into VA facilities nationwide have been launched the U.S. government, including the FBI and the Department of Justice.

Related: VA officials fired over wait time debacle

McDonald offered a plan to restructure the VA on Monday, with provisions to increase customer service efforts in order to guide veterans through the complex system.

“It’s as if we’re taking a clean sheet of paper and redesigning the second-largest department in government that was cobbled together over many years,” McDonald said Tuesday.