Archived Story

Walz wants data on state’s VA waits

Published 10:04am Thursday, May 15, 2014

By Tim Krohn

The Free Press

MANKATO — There is no evidence of a secret wait list at Minnesota VA clinics, but U.S. Rep. Tim Walz says he is pursuing a “full accounting of the data and the medical scheduling process used locally.”

Walz, D-Mankato, appearing at the Mankato VA clinic Wednesday, said he is a strong ally of the VA but also a harsh critic when warranted.

A former VA doctor has alleged the Phoenix VA clinic created a secret system to hide delays in treatment. The alleged delays may have affected dozens of patients who died while waiting for care. Similar accusations have been made in other states.

“That was an abomination,” Walz said of the Phoenix scandal.

The goal is for a wait of no more than 14 days to see a VA provider. Walz said that in Minnesota it appears the average wait time “is hovering around two to three weeks and sometimes longer.”

Walz, a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, voted last week with other committee members to subpoena emails and correspondence from the from top VA officials, including Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Walz said he and the committee want to find out how widespread the practice of covering up long wait times was. Those VA officials who hid the true wait times are accused of doing so because they are paid bonuses for meeting the 14-day wait goal.

But Walz said he also wants to determine if the 14-day goal is realistic considering the staffing levels and patient loads at VA clinics and hospitals. Walz noted that facilities such as Phoenix get a heavy influx of vets who live there in the winter, but said that was no reason for what allegedly happened there.

Virgil Marble, who was waiting for his appointment at the Mankato VA clinic when Walz arrived, said he’s most familiar with the Minneapolis VA and hasn’t generally had problems getting a fairly quick appointment. “The waits aren’t bad,” said Marble, who served in the Air Force from 1960 to 1966.

And he had high praise for a VA facility in Dallas where he went after having breathing difficulties. “I walked in, they didn’t know me, and showed them my card and in 15 minutes they had all my records and in 20 minutes I saw a doctor.”

Walz said that despite the scandal, the VA has grown from a place veterans once didn’t want to use to a premiere health care system. “It’s one of the best if not the best medical facility in the world.”

Walz also made other stops in Minnesota Wednesday and was scheduled to meet with top state VA officials to get more detailed information on wait times in the state. Walz said he would release those findings when he gets them.

—Distributed by MCT Information Services

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