There are over 21 million veterans in the United States, and many of them are entitled to health care benefits at Veterans Affairs clinics. Though some veterans choose not to enroll in the benefits, most of the clinics are still unable to keep up with patient demands. Studies over the last few years have found that many veterans are put on months-long waiting lists for doctor visits, and many veterans have died while waiting to see a doctor. New studies have found that the situation has continued to worsen.
Two years ago studies found that more than 57,000 veterans had waited 90 days or longer for an initial doctors appointment. Last fall, the Veteran Affairs' (VA) inspector general discovered that of the 800,000 records that were stalled in the system, 307,000 of them were for veterans who had died months or years before. Though some of these records reflect veterans who were not seeking benefits through the VA, it still reflected serious issues within the system.
In response to the growing problem, Congress passed the Veterans Choice bill to give veterans the ability to see a doctor outside of the VA system if the veteran lived more than 40 miles away from a clinic or if they would have to wait more than 30 days to see a doctor at a nearby VA clinic.
But new research found that within the last year there have been 70,000 more VA appointments than the year before that took over a month of waiting time. A major part of the problem was the way the Veterans Choice bill was set up because it only allotted 90 days for veterans to sign up for the bill.
The VA claims that the problem stems from an increased demand for veteran care. In 2010, the VA started accepting conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange for the first time and has since faced increased backlogs of veterans seeking care.
Wait lines for health care got so bad that employees at VA clinics started falsifying data and creating secret wait lists that were not included in reports to the government.
Treatment delays at VA clinics have been responsible for dozens of deaths in the last decade. Veterans who have suffered injuries from delayed treatment can file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for damages related to poor medical treatment or lack of treatment. Active service members are not able to use this Act to recover damages for injuries that occurred while on duty, but veterans are protected.
Veterans Affairs has six months to respond to an FTCA claim. If there is no response after six months or if the claim is denied, then veterans can take their claim to federal court.
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury while waiting for care from a VA clinic, you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.