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Coats, Donnelly demand answers on VA wait times

June 4, 2014

U.S. Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are demanding a meeting with the nation's new Veterans Affairs chief to assess wait times at the state's VA facilities amid reports of secret waiting lists at other facilities that caused some veterans to die before receiving care.

The senators planned to submit a letter Thursday to Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson requesting a review of Indiana facilities after a May 20 request to former Secretary Eric Shinseki went unanswered. Shinseki resigned last week.

"On behalf of nearly 500,000 Hoosier veterans, we ask that you immediately verify and report to us on the status of wait times and the use of unauthorized scheduling practices throughout Indiana," the senators wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

A federal investigation into the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an electronic waiting list. The investigation also found widespread problems throughout the health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.

A document released Tuesday by Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran showed that at least 108 veterans waited more than 90 days for appointments with a primary care doctor at nine hospitals and 51 outpatient clinics in parts of six states, including Indiana.

The Indianapolis Star reported this week that new patients at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Indianapolis had to wait an average of 42 days for an appointment. That is triple the VA's 14-day goal and ranked the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center 13th worst of the 140 VA medical centers across the country in terms of wait times.

"Forty-two days for an appointment is far too long. It could mean the difference between life and death," Dan Dellinger, national commander of the Indianapolis-based American Legion, told the newspaper.

Wait times at Indiana's other VA center were also below target.

Coats and Donnelly say the wait times "break a sacred trust with our veterans" to provide timely access to health care.

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