WASHINGTON — More than 57,400 U.S. veterans have been waiting at least 90 days for a first appointment at government hospitals, said a report that broadens the scope of failings in one of the largest federal agencies.

An internal review of 731 veterans’ medical facilities released Monday also showed that an additional 63,900 veterans who enrolled in the VA health system during the past 10 years haven’t received appointments.

“This data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions,” Sloan Gibson, acting Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, said Monday in a statement. “As of today, VA has contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off of wait lists and into clinics.”

Medical care for the nation’s 22.1 million veterans has become a top priority for Congress amid reports that the Veterans Health Administration, the country’s largest integrated health system, hid excessive waits for veterans trying to see a doctor. About half of the 1.9 million troops discharged after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan have come back to the U.S. in need of medical care, VA data show.

At least 18 veterans died while awaiting medical care in Phoenix, Gibson has said. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, has said there were as many as 40 deaths.

Miller and other lawmakers have blamed VA performance goals for motivating hospital staff to falsify official waiting lists. Gibson said last week that the department would remove the 14- day scheduling goal as a measure for bonuses.


Gibson’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki, resigned May 30 after an earlier review found systemic mismanagement, treatment delays and falsified records throughout the veteran’s health system. The internal audit showed scheduling staff were instructed to manipulate appointments at 64 percent of VA facilities.

The Senate may act as soon as this week on a bipartisan proposal that would expand access to health care for veterans. The $2 billion measure would provide money to lease 26 new medical facilities and hire doctors and nurses.

It also would set up a two-year pilot program requiring the VA to reimburse some non-VA facilities that provide medical care for veterans who live at least 40 miles from a VA facility or can’t schedule an appointment within about two weeks.

“The release of today’s data is an indication of the president’s commitment to be transparent about this process,” said Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary. ‘This continues to be a priority.”

President Barack Obama’s administration is taking steps to “ensure timely action” to schedule appointments, including hiring new staff and making use of mobile medical centers, Earnest said. “This is a large task.”

Before he quit, Shinseki, one of Obama’s original Cabinet members, fired Phoenix VA hospital leaders and halted performance bonuses for senior VA officials this year.


The main negotiators on the Senate measure are Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Arizona Republican John McCain. The VA’s $160 billion budget is fourth-largest of any federal agency.

House Republicans are promoting nine veteran-related bills that passed in recent months and await Senate action. Those include a proposal to make it easier to dismiss VA officials for misconduct and another that would freeze bonuses for senior VA officials through the 2018 fiscal year.

Obama made veterans’ care a top priority in his 2008 presidential campaign, saying, “America’s veterans deserve a president who will fight for them not just when it’s easy or convenient, but every hour of every day for the next four years.”

Obama, in accepting Shinseki’s resignation, said the VA needs a new health information system and may need more doctors and nurses.

The backlog of veterans seeking disability claims stood at 344,000 in April, down from 611,000 a year earlier, according to a VA news release.

With assistance from Roger Runningen in Washington.

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