TRAVERSE CITY - Newly enrolled patients seeking care at Michigan's five medical centers for veterans wait an average of three to four weeks before getting an appointment, according to federal audit results released Monday.
At the Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center in Iron Mountain, the average wait was 23 days.
The delays in some cases are more than twice as long as the 14-day target set by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011, which the agency now says is unrealistic because of surging demand for services. Still, the Michigan facilities did considerably better than the worst performers nationwide, where average waits drag on for months.
The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain is seen in this file photo. A recent study found veterans had to wait an average 23 days to receive an appointment at the facility, well above the agency’s 14-day target. (Photo courtesy of the Veterans Administration)
The audit also shows that 1,555 veterans in Michigan have waited more than three months for appointments at the VA centers, while 1,686 who signed up for care within the past decade have yet to see a doctor or other professional.
"Today's internal audit report is further proof that delayed care for our veterans is a national crisis," said U.S. Rep. Dan Banishek, a Michigan Republican and member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. "Our nation's heroes should never have to wait over 30 days for an appointment."
He said the numbers for several of Michigan's centers were better than national averages but still could be improved.
The report said three of the facilities - the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and outpatient clinics in Muskegon and Lansing - were among nearly 70 nationwide requiring further review. But it offered no details. A spokesman for Sen. Carl Levin said the Michigan Democrat had asked the agency for an explanation.
"Although we do not know the reason for the follow-up visits or who will be conducting them, we will work in full cooperation with the audit team to address any issues they may have," said Derek Atkinson, spokesman for the Ann Arbor system.
The average wait for a patient seeking primary care for the first time is nearly 31 days at the John D. Dingell Detroit VA Healthcare System, the longest in Michigan, followed closely by the Ann Arbor facility at just under 30 days.
Other average waits included about 28 days at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center and 22 days at the Alefda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw.
Waiting periods for new patients seeking specialist care were longer, ranging from 35 days at Saginaw to 59 days at Detroit. For mental health treatment, the Detroit center's wait was shortest at 20 days and Ann Arbor was longest at 27 days.
Patients already in the system had much shorter average waiting times, the longest being five days for specialty care at Battle Creek.
Alysse Mengason, spokeswoman for the Detroit medical center, said 98 percent of all veterans requesting an appointment there are seen within 30 days - a solid performance in view of a "drastic increase" in demand.
"Of course, we are striving to reduce that time frame each day," she said.
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