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Hirono calls for investigation into Hawaii VA

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    FILE - In this March 18

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has requested a deeper look into the wait times veterans are subjected to when seeking health care in Hawaii.

Hirono sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General within the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday.

An internal VA audit released Monday said that new patients wait an average of 145 days in Hawaii for an appointment with a primary care physician. Wait times for established patients were substantially shorter, with a wait for an appointment with a primary care physician lasting 4.5 days on average, according to the audit. In a letter sent separately to Hirono, the VA stated that 91 percent of its established patients were seen within 14 days of their desired appointment date.

But Hirono believes established patients also wait too long based on complaints she’s received from veterans.

"The information provided to me by the VA is not consistent with what veterans share with me and my staff regarding wait times," Hirono said in her letter. "Veterans claim much longer wait times."

Wayne Pfeffer, director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, said he welcomes any external review that would help the hospital improve.

"Even before this became a national issue, we were trying to address it, and the numbers have come down," Pfeffer said. "The hiccup we’re trying to resolve is the influx of new veterans, and the demand has been greater than the capacity."

A waiting list for new patients showed 1,900 veterans waiting for services on May 15, but his staff has worked to reduce the number to the mid-600s, Pfeffer said. They have been calling every veteran on the list and setting up new time slots for appointments, he said.

"The goal is to bring that down to nobody waits more than 30 days," Pfeffer said. "We’ve made a lot of progress . . . we’ll feel comfortable when every veteran is seen in a timely manner."

Hirono said she would like to know how long veterans are waiting for appointments from their first contact with the VA.

The wait times released by the VA were based on the date that the veteran wanted an appointment, not the date that the veteran first contacted the VA, Pfeffer said. Auditors met with his schedulers and did not find any inappropriate scheduling activity among his staff, he added.

The Office of the Inspector General will review the request and send a response to Hirono’s office, said Spokeswoman Catherine Gromek.

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