WASHINGTON -- A congressional report being released Wednesday takes a novel approach to measuring wait times and health care quality within the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system: Ask the veterans.
Freshman Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) initiated the investigation within his El Paso district independent of the VA. According to his office, he was driven by the "tons of stories" he had heard during his campaign that raised "great concern about Veteran care."
The report paints a picture of neglect and frustration that mirrors the experiences of veterans across the country -- long waits, delayed or even canceled appointments, and a general sense of dissatisfaction with their access to health care.
Nearly 19,000 veterans live in O'Rourke's district; the investigation surveyed 692 of them this spring.
Whereas the El Paso Veterans Health Administration stated that 85 to 100 percent of veterans were seen within 14 days of requesting an appointment, only 23 percent of the veterans surveyed said they waited less than 14 days. On average, according to the veterans themselves, they waited 71 days for a mental health care appointment and 85 days for a routine health care appointment.
When the experiences relayed by veterans don't match up to what the system claims it is delivering, it's a signal that something is amiss. News about systemic dishonesty and dysfunction within VA health care has already led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last week.
Despite frustration over the difficulties of scheduling an appointment, most veterans in O'Rourke's report seemed satisfied with the quality of care they ultimately received. Only 4 in 10 who were able to schedule an appointment said they were unsatisfied with the quality of care they received; only a quarter of those receiving mental health care felt that health care professionals had spent an inadequate amount of time with them.
Veterans do not want to ditch the VA system. Far from it: 88.5 percent felt that the best way to address these problems was to expand the existing El Paso facility in order to improve access to care.
O'Rourke, who is a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, wrote in a forward to the report, "The results substantiate the individual anecdotes I have long heard from El Pasoans and directly contradict the assurances of acceptable access and quality from the VA in Washington, D.C. and the VHA in El Paso."