The VA Maine Health Care System fared better than many other facilities in a system-wide audit, but hundreds of veterans still had to wait more than a month for appointments, the Veterans Affairs Department said Monday.
A single-day audit last month found that 99 percent of doctor visits took place in 30 days or less in Maine. But 664 veterans had to wait more than a month. All told, 47,698 appointments were scheduled.
The audit also showed new patients waited 36 days on average to be seen, and six had to wait 120 days or more.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who was one of six Republican governors to ask President Barack Obama to initiate reforms in the Department of Veterans Affairs, believes more needs to be done.
“While Maine fared better than other states, the governor believes no veteran should fall through the cracks of our VA system. Six-hundred-and-sixty-four is 664 too many, and it is critical that this population of veterans receive prompt and quality medical services,” said Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman.
The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network after an uproar over patients dying while awaiting appointments and of coverups at the Phoenix VA center. The controversy forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30.
Ryan Lilly, director of the VA Maine Health Care System, which was formerly known as the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta, said Monday that he’s pleased with the overall results.
“We’re doing well. The 99 percent figure confirms that,” Lilly said from Augusta.
But the state’s VA wants to do even better. It is looking into whether the delayed appointments can be moved up, or transferred to private health care at the VA’s expense, he added.
Peter Miesburger of Caribou, chairman of the legislative committee for the Maine Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was not aware of widespread complaints about VA health care delays. In fact, many veterans are pleased with the Augusta hospital and system of outpatient clinics, said Miesburger, a retired Air Force master sergeant.
“What I hear on the street and throughout the state of Maine is that 99 percent of veterans are pleased with Togus,” he said, using the hospital’s old name. “We have no complaints.”