In response to concerns about long waits for care at some of its hospitals, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began releasing statistics last May on the timeliness of medical appointments at about 1,000 facilities in its health care system. In August, Congress gave the VA an additional $16.3 billion to attack the problem by hiring by more doctors, opening new clinics, and expanding a program that is supposed to make it easier for vets to get care outside the VA system if they can't get a timely appointment.
The VA began auditing and reporting wait times last spring after a scandal over attempts at many facilities to cover up delays by manipulating the medical network's scheduling system.
Attempts to game the statistics included tricks like keeping unofficial lists of patients who needed to be scheduled for an appointment, so that the full time they spent waiting to see a medical provider wouldn't be documented. It is unclear how effective the VA has been at halting those practices, but it claims to have made great strides.
The problem of long waits and falsified statistics was well known within the VA, and had been the subject of numerous reports by government oversight agencies over the years, but public attention reached such a peak last May that it led to the resignation of VA Eric Shinseki.
President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in August. It made $16.3 billion available to reduce wait times. A hallmark of the legislation was the VA's new "Choice," program, which was intended to ease wait times by giving more vets the option of getting care outside the system.
Vets began getting the ID cards they need to use the program in November, but so far it has gotten only light use. Between Nov. 5 and March 17, according to VA officials, about 46,000 patients had made appointments for private-sector care through the program - a drop in the bucket for a system that averages about 4.7 million appointments per month.
VA officials have been citing modest accomplishments in the campaign to reduce wait times, but they have also said that change won't happen overnight.
According to the VA, the number of appointments completed between May 1 and Feb. 28 was up by nearly 4.5 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. The VA said it has increased the number of vets approved for care in the private sector, though those visits still make up only a tiny percentage of overall care.
Use of the VA system has risen substantially in recent years. Total enrollees in the system ballooned from 6.8 million in 2002 to 8.9 million in 2013. During that same period, outpatient visits have soared from 46.5 million to 86.4 million annually; Patient spending has grown from $19.9 billion to $44.8 billion. The number of patients served annually has grown from 4.5 million to 6 million.
In the city of Corpus Christi the month of February showed a delay in 3.53% of appointments at the VA Clinic. These delays were shown to have lasted at least 31 days.
Also in the month of February there were smaller percentages of care being delayed up to 90 days. However during that month the VA Clinic dud complete 4498 appointments for the local area.
Going back to the month of September the number of completed appointments for the care facility has declined steadily. During the month of November the VA Clinic saw its lowest number of completed appointments with 3973 completions.
Though the facility did raise their number of completed appointments in recent months it is still seeing a lower number of completion rates. the most recent numbers show a decrease from 4914 completed appointments in September to 4498 appointments in February.