Rep. G.K.Butterfield NC 01 Wants To Know Why Durham VA Mental Health has The Worst Wait Time in The Nation

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) released a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 4Assistant Secretary for Congressional and 6Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney expressing serious concerns over reports of exceptionally long wait times for patients at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).  On Monday, the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Nationwide Access Audit revealed that new patients at the Durham VAMC are waiting an average of 104 days for mental health appointments, the longest of any VA healthcare facility in the country.

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In his letter, Congressman Butterfield states, “Particularly troubling is that Durham VAMC challenged the validity of the average wait times for new patient mental health appointments.  Yesterday, the Durham VAMC, through a press release claimed that it is not able to validate the data in the Nationwide Access Audit and that, ‘according to a June 9 VSSC report covering fiscal year 2014 to date, more than 58% of new mental health patients were seen within 14 days and the overall average wait time for a new patient appointment was 25 days to the first visit.’ 

8“These conflicting claims within the same Department are a glaring example of the systemic failures within the VA healthcare system.  The 79 day discrepancy of average wait times at the Durham VAMC is completely unacceptable and demands immediate clarification.  Our nation’s veterans deserve true and accurate information.”

Butterfield went on to request that Assistant Secretary Mooney provide detailed responses to his questions listed in the letter and explain the conflicting reports by Wednesday, June 18th

The Congressman’s full letter with questions follows.–

June 11, 2014

The Honorable Joan Mooney

Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Assistant Secretary Mooney:

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Nationwide Access Audit has revealed many troubling failures throughout the Department’s healthcare system, and I am particularly concerned with the revelation of extensive wait times for new patients seeking an appointment for mental health issues at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Durham, North Carolina. 

According to the Department’s audit released on Monday, new patients are waiting an average of 104 days for new patient mental health appointments.  I am informed that this wait time is the longest of any VA healthcare facility in the country.

Particularly troubling is that Durham VAMC challenged the validity of the average wait times for new patient mental health appointments.  Yesterday, the Durham VAMC, through a press release claimed that it is not able to validate the data in the Nationwide Access Audit and that, “according to a June 9 VSSC report covering fiscal year 2014 to date, more than 58% of new mental health patients were seen within 14 days and the overall average wait time for a new patient appointment was 25 days to the first visit.” 

These conflicting claims within the same Department are a glaring example of the systemic failures within the VA healthcare system.  The 79 day discrepancy of average wait times at the Durham VAMC is completely unacceptable and demands immediate clarification.  Our nation’s veterans deserve true and accurate information.

I ask that you provide detailed answers to the following questions no later than Wednesday, June 18, 2014:

  1. What is the average wait time for new patient mental health appointments at the Durham VAMC?
  2. Why does the press release distributed by Durham VAMC directly contradict the Veteran’s Administration’s National Access Audit?
  3. If the average wait time for new patient mental health appointments at Durham VAMC is indeed 104 days as reported in the Department’s National Access Audit, what specific actions will the Department implement to remedy the wait time faced by veterans?

Our nation’s brave veterans put themselves in harm’s way and they deserve the highest quality medical care available.  It is our responsibility to ensure they have access to the care they need when they need it and are not subject to intolerable wait times.  

I respectfully request your prompt attention to this matter, clarification of the contradictions between the figures reported in the Department’s Nationwide Access Audit and the Durham VAMC’s June 10th press release, and detailed responses to the questions above no later than June 18, 2014.

Thank you very much.

Very truly yours,

G. K. Butterfield

Member of Congress

cc:

Daniel F. Hoffmann

Network Director

Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network (VISN 6)

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About George Fisher

George is a freelance writer, an author and a Democratic political consultant. He has worked as Deputy Communications Director for a Senatorial campaign and Campaign Manager for several NC House races and one congressional race. He previously worked as a news producer for a local television station.
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