It’s been well over a year since the VA was exposed and shown how neglectful they have been treating our veterans’ pertaining to their medical care. It was revealed how veterans’ long waits for care have resulted in deaths of veterans. What is unfortunate is it has not improved, even here in Jacksonville.
The Florida Times Union did an investigation back in July of 2015 and Action News Jax did an investigation in November of 2015.
The Florida Times Union found that while the number of veterans waiting over 30 days for a primary care appointment in Jacksonville has improved slightly, the average wait time for specialty care appointments, anything from an MRI to a hearing test, still hovers around 30 days. For the VA’s part, officials say they are working to shorten wait times.
In July, the VA acquired additional space to improve access to care. They purchased a 20,000 square-feet office at the Brooks Rehabilitation Plaza that was to be ready for patients. According to a VA spokesperson, the North Florida/South Georgia VA Health System, of which the Jacksonville clinic is a part, has made progress reducing its electronic waiting list used for patients waiting more than 90 days for care.
The new facility houses six to 10 additional primary care teams and some mental health and ancillary services at the new building. At that time, the VA had provider vacancies in a number of high volume specialty care clinics such as ophthalmology, optometry and dermatology. VA cites to the vacancies as the major reason why the number of days waiting for specialty care has not declined at Jacksonville OPC. The facility did not have plans for an imaging center. Jacksonville veterans have told the Times-Union they often face waits of four, five and six months for scans like MRIs and CTs.
Well, the Action News Jax investigation shows that the provider vacancies cited as a problem back in July are still a problem. Journalists from the news agency talked to a former sailor who told them she was being shut out of medical care. She was experiencing a very hard time getting to see her doctor, with the office telling her it will be months to get an appointment with her doctor. The sailor wanted to see a dermatologist. After more than a month of emails of requesting an appointment, she received an email saying she had to show her skin issue was service-related before an appointment would be made but the news agency learned that’s not true. A VA representative told us veterans do not have to be service-connected to be seen for any condition at the VA, except for dental care. We also learned the average local dermatology wait is 32 days.
Despite this sailor’s experience, Jacksonville’s VA clinic has improved wait times, which at one point were the worst in the country. According to the latest numbers, so far in November, of the 52,977 appointments made, 89 percent were scheduled in 30 days or less. Compare that to December of 2014, when that number was 74 percent.
We agree with this sailor, it should never have get this difficult or this far and that local veterans deserve better.