The number of cases delayed at Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities in Connecticut nearly tripled in the span of a month, according to data released Monday by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
The new data, offered by Blumenthal at a press conference in Hartford, are the latest indicators of problems in VA’s health care system.
The senator has been seeking facility-specific results of an audit conducted by the agency in May. The audit was conducted amidst revelations that staff within the VA system in Arizona falsified records to conceal the agency’s inability to meet deadlines in providing healthcare services to veterans.
Although the agency has yet to comply with Blumenthal’s request for the specific audit results of Connecticut facilities, information released in June suggested the facilities in Connecticut did not raise any red flags.
However, Blumenthal said Monday the last information shows that the number of veteran health care appointments that were delayed more than 30 days jumped from 998 in mid-May to 2,727 in mid-June.
“We were assured that these delays were not occurring in Connecticut, that Connecticut had been spared the deadly delays, falsification of records, manipulation of data that has been prevalent elsewhere in the nation,” Blumenthal said. “Now this data may signify, in fact strongly challenges the notion that Connecticut was somehow not involved in these delays.”
The senator said the increase in delayed cases was “astonishing” given that the VA healthcare system was under heightened scrutiny during the same period. He said the jump may be attributed to more accurate record keeping if perhaps staff abandoned efforts to conceal problems within the agency.
“In other words, the hidden delays have now been revealed and therefore the wait times, more accurately reported, seem longer. But again, for Connecticut, that’s bad news,” he said.
On July 1, Blumenthal wrote for a second time to acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson asking that the agency clarify the new information as well as release facility specific audit results. Gibson took over for former VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned his position at the end of May.
Blumenthal said he hoped the new revelations would increase support for legislation he helped to draft that aims to address some of the problems plaguing the VA healthcare system.
The bill would provide emergency funding for the agency to hire more doctors and nurses and set up scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for healthcare professionals who choose to work at the VA. It includes provisions making it easier for the agency to fire bad actors within its ranks. It would also enable vets to seek care from private medical providers if their care at the VA has been delayed.
Blumenthal said a “substantial” number of veterans have contacted his office since he began making public statements related to the VA controversy.
“The data we’re revealing or making available today reflects public outcry from veterans and from people generally,” he said.
Connecticut has two VA hospitals, which are located in Newington and West Haven, as well as six outpatient facilities.
In a Thursday statement, Gibson acknowledged veterans have had to wait too long for care at facilities across the country. But he said his agency was working to get vets off waiting lists.
“As of today, we’ve reached out to nearly 140,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics, and there is more work to be done,” Gibson said. “As we continue to address systemic challenges in accessing care, these regular data updates enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to veterans and the public on improvements to veterans’ access to quality health care. We are fully committed to fixing the problems we face in order to better serve veterans.”