An internal audit by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs shows Bay Area vets are waiting a month or more on average to get their first primary care appointment. That monthlong wait time is on par with the national average, and much better than some regions, where veterans are waiting more than twice that long.
Besides the long wait times, auditors flagged a Livermore clinic as one of 112 sites slated for “further review.” A Livermore employee reportedly told auditors that workers there had been instructed to schedule patients in a way not consistent with VA guidelines.
East Bay Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell represents Livermore and says he’s been in touch with the clinic’s staff.
“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see posture as to what’s occurring there,” Swalwell said Tuesday. “But I can just say that from our experience with our 250 veterans cases that we have in our office, we do not have a single open case that relates to a veteran having a prolonged wait time.”
Swalwell said he’s signed onto several bills that would upgrade the VA’s outdated scheduling system.
Geoff Millard, an Iraq War vet who works for the veterans rights group Swords to Plowshares, says the problem in the Bay Area isn’t the medical care — it’s getting approved for that care.
“Most of my friends are combat vets, and very few had an easy time getting their benefits,” Millard said. “And the ones that did have an easy time sought the help from the beginning of the process. Because the process isn’t just simply, ‘Oh fill out the online application, that’s it.’ No, you have to supply medical documentation, show causation. There’s a lot more to it.”
Millard says the VA should make the process simpler and apply benefits more widely among members of the armed services, which he thinks would help alleviate a lot of the department’s bureaucratic problems.
According to the new VA statistics, based on data collected in mid-May, veterans in the San Francisco system wait 30 days on average for their first primary care appointment. For veterans in the Palo Alto system, it’s 42 days, and for the Northern California system, it’s an average of 43 days. Nationwide, new patients’ wait times for primary care appointments ranged from 12 days in Bedford, Massachusetts, to 145 days in Honolulu.