VA Chief Visits Fayetteville Clinic after Audit

Fayetteville VA

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson will meet Thursday with the leadership and staff of the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the 83-day average wait time for a new veteran to be seen is the longest in the country, a recent VA audit revealed.

Gibson's visit comes as the VA quickly tries to repair an appointment scheduling system that not only was broken, but routinely manipulated by officials and staff at facilities across the country to make their numbers look good.

The Fayetteville visit is only one of many Gibson intends to make to VA facilities, the department said on Monday when it released the audit of 731 facilities, including 150 medical centers. Fayetteville is the hometown of Fort Bragg, home to a large majority of Special Forces soldiers and the sight of Joint Special Operations Command's headquarters.

All told, the VA audit revealed that more than 57,000 veteran patients have waited longer than 90 days for appointments at VA hospitals and clinics, and about 64,000 others who entered VA health care over the last 10 years were never seen by a doctor.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Fayetteville hospital said the information revealed by the audit "indicates we are straining to add more capacity to take care of more veterans. "

Expanding operations through a community-based clinic outside Fayetteville as well as new construction will help the hospital meet veterans' needs, it said in the statement, published in the Jackson Daily News. The Fayetteville clinic also defended its employees as dedicated and committed, and noted that nearly half the staff are veterans "and treat our patients as they themselves would want to be treated."

The manipulation of the system came to light in April when CNN reported that up to 40 veterans may have died before getting to see a doctor at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.  The VA has since confirmed that 18 veterans waiting to be seen at the Phoenix facility ware on a so-called secret waiting list intended to conceal the size of the patient backlog.

On Wednesday the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department formally directed the FBI to open an investigation into the appointment manipulation. A criminal investigation has been demanded by veterans groups and lawmakers, who say they want people charged.

On Monday night the VA's Acting Inspector General told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that VA employees will only take efforts to clean up the system seriously when someone faces criminal charges.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com

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