Local VA Chief Of Staff Discusses Wait Times, Plans To Improve

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s a story that’s raising eyebrows across the country. A scathing audit of the VA nationwide reveals thousands of vets waited months just to get doctor’s appointments, including veterans right here in Baltimore.

Rick Ritter sat down with the chief of staff at the local VA.

Investigators say the problem is even worse than suspected and includes falsified records. The chief of staff tells WJZ, “Gaining veterans’ trust back is as vital as the air we breathe.”

“I’m dealing with it now. The pain is still there. It wakes me at night,” said one veteran.

“They’re there for a freaking paycheck. That’s all they’re there for,” said another.

Emotions are running higher than ever after a new VA audit impacts veterans right here in Baltimore.

“Basically, they told me it would be six months before I could get my surgery,” said Master Sgt. Steve Klein.

The new audit reveals 57,000 veterans nationwide have been waiting more than three months for medical care. Another 63,000 veterans requested an appointment and never got one.

For the first time since the findings were released, WJZ heard from the chief of staff at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

“We need to give better care, faster care, so we’re working through all of the things and the challenges,” said Dr. Adam Robinson, chief of staff for Veterans Affairs.

According to the audit, to receive a primary care appointment at the Baltimore VA Health Center is almost 81 days. New patients needing specialty care will wait nearly 44 days.

“Eighty days is absolutely too high,” Robinson said. “We have more patients that are trying to get into our system than we have providers.”

In 76 percent of all VA clinics, schedulers say they were ordered to falsify wait times.

“As a veteran, I’m not only shocked but saddened,” Robinson said.

But he says those statistics don’t reflect on Maryland’s VA.

“There was no mention of anyone trying to game the system or do anything inappropriate here,” he said.

And the focus remains on serving veterans day in and day out through a trustworthy relationship.

“We need to make sure of the number of positions that we need to fill in order to meet the increased demand,” he said. “I keep my eye on the prize and the prize in this instance is the patients we continue to serve.”

The hotline for VA complaints has already received more than 800 calls. Maryland’s VA Health Care System is not under investigation by the Inspector General.

VA Maryland officials say all new patients waiting more than 90 days to see a doctor are now being contacted and offered an earlier appointment.

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