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Dayton VA officials say their waiting list is no secret

Recently raised concerns that delayed care caused the deaths of dozens of veterans nationwide, and that one VA hospital kept a “secret list” to conceal delays, upset local veterans waiting for a bus home from the Dayton VA Medical Center on Friday.

“It makes me sick,” said Army veteran Jeff Fief.

But he and others said they never experienced anything like that at the local hospital. “I always got in,” he said. “They never turned me away. Never once.”

Dayton VA officials say they exceed national goals for treating veterans in a timely manner, and they “look forward” to a nationwide audit of Veterans Affairs hospitals. Officials here have already conducted an internal review that found nothing “that could possibly be interpreted, correctly or otherwise, as a ‘secret wait list.’”

That statement was released Friday in response to questions by this newspaper after the American Legion and others called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign following allegations that a veterans affairs hospital in Phoenix had kept a “secret list” to hide deadly delays for care.

Dayton VA spokesman Ted Froats said there is a list of veterans whose care is delayed — defined as not getting someone in within a week of when they request an appointment — but it’s no secret.

“The list is stored electronically, available to everyone who has a legitimate reason to access it, and is personally reviewed by our leadership every week,” he said. “All of our eligible veterans can (and do) receive emergency and specialty care.”

Froats could not by press time say how many people were on that list or how long they had waited. But he said the Dayton VA gets people in within a week of their requested date more than 96 percent of the time and get people in the same day they call 82 percent of the time.

The national goal is to get people in the same day 70 percent of the time and to get them in within a week of when they requested 92 percent of the time.

Froats said the VA is processing people as quickly as possible, but is currently experiencing a shortage of primary care providers they are recruiting to fill.

Ohio’s Congressional delegation expressed concern with delays, unnecessary deaths and claims backlogs at VA medical centers across the country.

“An investigation of the allegations made against VA health facilities is a necessary step to ensuring our nation’s veterans are receiving the highest level of care they deserve,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in a statement Friday.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., stopped short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

“From the claims backlog, to the safety incidents, to the many deaths that could have been prevented, the horror stories coming out of the VA are astounding,” he said. “There’s no accountability – only business as usual.”

Boehner said he expects the U.S. House in May to consider the VA Management Accountability Act, which would give the VA secretary broader authority to fire to demote officials believed to be mismanaging care for veterans.

In the meantime, the U.S. House Veteran Affairs Committee – which includes U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati – has subpoenaed records from the Phoenix VA, plus the VA Inspector General is conducting an investigation, and Shinseki has ordered a “face-to-face audit” at all medical centers.

Veterans here and across the country will be watching, including Air Force veteran Arthur Norman who said he comes to the Dayton VA Medical center about every week and “it does seem like the people really do care.”

But what he hears on the news about the way some vets are treated: “It’s a disservice to the veterans,” he said. “They deserve better treatment. The American taxpayers are being gipped.”

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