Roseburg VA addresses backlog issue

VA Roseburg Healthcare System officials say the facility has already taken steps to speed up the conducting of physical exams needed by veterans requesting disability benefits in the wake of a federal audit that reported long delays.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have called for an expedited investigation of the situation.

“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,” the Oregon senators said in a letter sent Thursday to Eric Shinseki, Veteran Affairs secretary.

In August 2009, 574 veterans were waiting for the VA Roseburg Healthcare System to process their requests for physical exams they need for the VA to determine their disability benefits, the audit found.

Of those, 257 of the vets had been waiting more than 90 days to have their requests processed, and to potentially receive related medical treatment.

“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,” Merkley said Thursday in a statement on the backlog.

But Sharon Carlson, executive assistant to the director of the VA Roseburg Healthcare System, said this morning the VA has already moved to address the problem.

She also said the local VA system has cut the number of pending exam requests by more than half and cut the average processing time down to 20 days.

Currently, the Roseburg VA has 272 exam requests pending and none are more than 90 days old, Carlson said. Two requests have been pending for more than 60 days and 18 requests have been pending for more than 30 days.

The other 252 have been pending for less than 30 days. On average, the requests are now processed within 20 days at the local VA facility.

The delays were among the findings officials with an internal watchdog group for the VA included in a report released Wednesday.

The report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, or OIG, resulted from an audit of how quickly four VA facilities nationwide were conducting what are called compensation and pension, or C&P, medical exams. The VA uses the exams to determine disability ratings for vets.

The recently released report also states that vets at the Portland VA facility were waiting an average of 26 days for their exams to be scheduled.

Merkley stated Thursday that the report “makes it clear that the VA has not committed sufficient resources to provide adequate and timely care to our veterans.”

Merkley, a Democrat, has asked Shinseki to tell him what steps the VA is taking to resolve the problem, what systems would ensure better outcomes in the future and what recourse was available to vets whose exams had been delayed.