Jun 9, 2014 6:05 PM by Kenzie Meek-Beck

1,600 waited 90 days for Colorado VA appointments

DENVER (AP) - As many as 1,630 patients have had to wait for initial medical appointments at eastern Colorado veterans facilities 90 days or more after requesting them, according to a Veterans Affairs Department audit released Monday.

The VA also said up to 115 patients had to wait at least 90 days for their first appointment at western Colorado facilities.

The findings were based on an audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics nationwide on a single day in May. A total of more than 57,000 patients have been caught in that 90-day category, the report said.

Officials blamed rapid growth in the number of new veterans enrolling in the system and periodic shortages of doctors and other providers for the wait times in Colorado.

"We're one of the fastest-growing VAs in the United States," said Paul Warvi, a spokesman for the eastern Colorado veterans health system.

He said the 1,600 patients on the 90-day-plus list represent only 2.5 percent of the more than 66,000 appointments scheduled that day but said it was still a significant number.

The western Colorado system was short-staffed on the day of the audit but has been aggressively recruiting more providers, spokesman Paul Sweeney said.

The eastern Colorado system includes a medical center in Denver and 10 satellite clinics. The western Colorado system includes a Grand Junction medical center and five clinics.

The Grand Junction hospital and an outpatient clinic in Colorado Springs will get follow-up reviews based on the findings of inspections in May, the report said.

The Colorado Springs review was prompted by three anonymous reports that staffers were pressured to alter records of wait times, Warvi said.

Grand Junction VA officials haven't been told the reason for the follow-up, Sweeney said.

A VA clinic in Fort Collins was was not listed for a follow-up review, even though investigators have said employees there were instructed to falsify appointment records.

However, the Fort Collins facility reports to the VA hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and that hospital is in line for a follow-up review.

Cheyenne VA spokeswoman Patricia Hill said she couldn't comment without reviewing the findings.

More than 700 patients never got appointments at the eastern Colorado facilities after enrolling and requesting them.

Warvi said VA officials are looking into the reasons. Some might have been soldiers from Fort Carson who asked for appointments as they were leaving the Army but then moved to another state, he said.

The report said 26 patients never got appointments in the western Colorado system, the report said.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called the audit results unacceptable. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he will co-sponsor a bipartisan measure to expand veterans' access to medical care and make it easier to fire employees for mismanagement. Udall serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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