WASHINGTON - After a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs audit released earlier this week showed that Oregon's VA medical centers were among the worst in the nation for wait times, Oregon's Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are calling on the national VA to prioritize assistance to fix long wait times at Oregon VA facilities.
In a letter sent to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson, the two senators noted the long wait times in Oregon for primary care, specialty care, and mental health appointments, and asked for expedited assistance and emergency funding to fix the problems without delay.
The VA is making additional funds available to help address the backlogs and speed care to veterans.
"These numbers are absolutely unacceptable," the senators wrote. "Those who fought for us deserve far better. […] We must keep the promises we made to those who served our country."
The audit released earlier this week showed that more than 6,600 Oregon veterans were on electronic waiting lists, with an average wait time for new primary patients of 80 days in Portland and 50 days in Roseburg.
Average wait times for new patient mental health appointments were between 30 and 60 days, a concerning number given the high rate of suicide among veterans.
The full text of the letter follows below,.
June 11, 2014
The Honorable Sloan Gibson
Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Acting Secretary Gibson:
We write to express our serious concern over the ongoing issue of timely care at Veterans Health Service facilities and to ask for your expedited assistance in correcting these problems at Oregon facilities.
The Veterans Administration (VA) audit report released this week identified several facilities in Oregon with unconscionably long wait times. Among these were Portland and Roseburg, which had 3,212 veterans and 3,464 veterans on Electronic Wait Lists respectively. These numbers translated into average wait times for new patients of 80 days in Portland and 50 days in Roseburg. Worse still were the average wait times for new specialty care patients: 62 days in Portland, 65 days in Roseburg, and a staggering 88 days in White City.
Average wait times for new patient mental health appointments are particularly concerning given the high rate of suicide among our veterans. The report showed that vets in need are waiting between 30 to 60 days for their first visits with VA mental healthcare providers. These numbers are absolutely unacceptable. Those who fought for us deserve far better.
We were pleased to learn that the VA is making additional funds available to help address these backlogs and speed care to veterans. It is clear that the Oregon VA facilities need help. We urge you to send immediate emergency funding to Oregon VA facilities to help ameliorate the unacceptably long wait times Oregon veterans face. We must keep the promises we made to those who served our country.