Data obtained by USA TODAY shows more than 356,000 veterans sought out new medical care in the six months between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. Of those, just two out of five saw a doctor within the target of 14 days. Nationwide, the average wait for an appointment was nearly double that – 27 days.
Those numbers, already grim, may grow far worse as the investigation into doctor wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals continues. The data includes figures at hospitals and health care centers that investigators say falsified their figures to make them appear far better than they actually are. Related:Audit Shows 60 Percent of Facilities Altered Appointment Dates
The data release comes on the same day that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid pressure on his department.
Despite the potentially false figures included in Friday's data release, the numbers show that at many hospitals, veterans already are waiting weeks – sometimes months – for care. In Nashville, it takes more than two months for the average new patient to see a doctor. In Atlanta, Gainesville, Fla., and Portland, Ore., veterans are put on hold for more than 50 days.
Only 19 of the VA's 140 health care facilities reported average wait times within the administration's target range. Some – in Richmond, Va., and Hampton, Va. and here in Columbia – said fewer than 20% of new patients got in to see a doctor within that 14-day time frame.
Specifically, the Dorn VA Medical Center had only 14.4% of its patients met the two week goal of seeing a doctor. The average new patient wait was 39 days.
The situation was somewhat better at Charleston's John VA Medical Center, which saw 29% of its patients getting to see a doctor in two weeks, with new patients waiting 33 days. Augusta's Norwood VA Center was the best of the hospitals in this region, with 73.9% of patients seeing a doctor within 14 days and a wait time of 13.1 days for new patients.
The VA has confirmed that 42 facilities are under investigation for having falsified their wait records. It is unclear exactly which hospitals are being scrutinized, although investigators singled out some in a recent report.
According to an Office of Inspector General report, the Phoenix VA Health Care System showed patients waited 24 days in 2013, while in reality the actual delay averaged nearly four months. In the first six months of 2014, Phoenix reported average wait times of 22 days, according to the data released Friday – indicating that officials continued to conceal prolonged waits at the facility.
Numbers from other hospitals reveal a two-tiered system of care. Hawaii's VA Pacific Islands Health Care System reported that 42% of its patients saw doctors within 14 days. But those who didn't get seen quickly were left to linger: the average wait time for the rest was two and a half months.