Merkley Calls on VA to Immediately End Delays in Medical Examinations at Two Oregon Facilities
March 18, 2010
Letter Comes In Response to Report of Long Wait-Times in Portland and Roseburg
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs today released a report detailing inexcusably long wait times for Compensation and Pension examinations at four VA facilities, including two in Oregon. In response, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley is urging the VA to act immediately to resolve the system problems identified in the report and take steps to help those veterans who have had their care delayed.
The report, compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, looked into efforts to provide timely compensation and pension examinations. These exams are very important in determining disability ratings and any delays can jeopardize access to the appropriate care regimen and potentially deny veterans needed medical treatment.
Specifically, the report looked at four VA facilities across the nation, including those in Portland and Roseburg. It found that the average wait time for an exam in Portland is 26 days, with seventy-three seriously injured elderly veterans and Global War on Terror veterans waiting 34 days. In Roseburg, 45 percent of the 574 pending Compensation and Pension exam requests were more than 90 days old.
In response to these findings, Senator Merkley wrote to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking the department what steps they were taking to resolve these problems, what systems would ensure better outcomes in the future, and what recourse was available to veterans whose exams had been delayed. (Full text of the letter is available below)
“I am very concerned that some veterans are not getting the care and assistance they are entitled to simply because their exams are on hold,” said Merkley. “I appreciate the VA looking into this matter, but now they must take concrete steps to fix the situation. Our veterans deserve no less that our prompt attention and it is dismaying to hear about these unacceptable delays.”
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
I write to request an expedited investigation into a report published by the Veterans Administration (VA) office of Inspector General on March 17, 2010, entitled “Department of Veterans Affairs: Audit of VA’s Efforts to Provide Timely Compensation and Pension Medical Examinations.” This report highlights four VA facilities that are in dire need of assistance, including two located in my state of Oregon, the Portland and Roseburg facilities.
I am deeply troubled by the report’s finding that both the Portland and Roseburg Veterans Affairs facilities have significant backlogs of veterans awaiting Compensation and Pension medical exams. As you know all too well, these medical exams are critically important because they determine the disability ratings that are appropriate for veterans seeking care. Any delay in providing these exams can have a devastating effect on our veterans, as delay jeopardizes their access to the appropriate regimen of care and potentially denies them needed medical treatment.
I was particularly concerned to learn the extent to which veterans in the Portland and Roseburg areas have to wait for appropriate determinations of their cases. According to the report, veterans seeking a Compensation and Pension exam must wait an average of 26 days at the Portland facility. Additionally, 73 seriously injured elderly veterans and those classified in the Global War on Terror priority group have been waiting 34days, on average, to schedule their exams.
Although the Veterans Affairs Regional Office asked that these be expedited, the report concludes that “the VA medical facility in Portland had not committed sufficient resources to ensure veterans received timely Compensation and Pension medical exams.” Additionally, the audit indicated that 45 percent of the 574 pending Compensation and Pension exam requests at the VA medical facility in Roseburg were greater than 90 days old. Further, documentation showed that 140 of these unscheduled exam requests – or almost 25 percent –were pending for an average age of 49 days. Rather than review these completed exams request and return them to the Veteran Affairs Regional Office, management chose to process newer exam requests in an attempt to meet Veterans Health Administrations timeliness standard. As a result, veterans experienced extensive delays in having the results of their exams returned to the Veteran Affairs Regional Office.
This report makes it clear that the VA has not committed sufficient resources to provide adequate and timely care to our veterans. I am confident that you share my deep concerns about the findings of this report and are taking immediate action to resolve the deficiencies highlighted. Therefore, I would like to know:
1. What specific actions are you taking to resolve the systemic problems identified in the report?
2. Once new processes are put into place, what systems will exist to enable the VA to better monitor the status of pending Compensation and Pension exams to guard against future backlogs of this magnitude?
3. What recourse is available to those veterans’ whose cases have languished in the VA’s current system? Are these veterans now eligible for some type of expedited review to insure that they have immediate access to the appropriate level of care?
I would appreciate a response in writing to my questions within 14 days of receipt of this letter. In the interim, I stand by ready to help you and the Department as you work towards solutions to these problems. We must make good on our promise to these American Veterans to deliver exceptional, timely care. Our veterans deserve better.
I look forward to your response.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley