The Associated Press

VA Delays


This material, originally scheduled for an April 6 release, has been updated to integrate the most recently released data for February from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Public release of the data and any related stories are embargoed until Thursday, April 9. The updated material can now be downloaded using the link below.

About the dataset

In response to concerns about long waits for care at some of its hospitals, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began releasing statistics last May on the timeliness of medical appointments at about 1,000 facilities in its health care system. In August, Congress gave the VA an additional $16.3 billion to attack the problem by hiring by more doctors, opening new clinics, and expanding a program that is supposed to make it easier for vets to get care outside the VA system if they can't get a timely appointment. The Associated Press is examining the latest data to see whether wait times have started to improve as a result of the funding injection and other reforms. The AP also is exploring what the VA is doing to address delays at the facilities where waits are worst.

The AP originally made this data available covering a time period that ended in January. It has now been updated to include statistics for February.

Included spreadsheets

The AP is providing three spreadsheets that offer opportunities for members and customers to localize the data for their audiences. One spreadsheet shows how each of 940 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics performed on wait times from Sept. 1, 2014, to Feb. 28, 2015. Three ranges for the length of delays are provided for each facility. The second spreadsheet provides the same data month by month. The third contains national totals covering the period Aug. 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015. The VA tracks several types of statistics related to wait times, but for this analysis, the AP chose to highlight appointments that failed to meet the VA's timeliness standard, which calls for patients to wait no longer than 30 days for non-emergency care. The VA is the source for all three sets.

The monthly and totals spreadsheets contain the location and type of each facility. The types are as follows:

An AP national story will be slugged "Veterans-Health Care". Information in the IMPORTANT NOTES and BACKGROUND sections of the README file is publishable in localized stories.


National Stats

Below figures are derived from monthly totals of completed appointments, nationally, for August through February.

Completed Appointments Care delayed at least 31 days Pct delayed at least 31 days Care delayed 31-60 days Pct delayed 31-60 days Care delayed 61-90 days Pct delayed 61-90 days Care delayed more than 90 days Pct delayed more than 90 days
32,156,618 893,845 2.78% 662,195 2.05% 179,134 0.56% 52,516 0.16%

IMPORTANT NOTES about the dataset


The VA began auditing and reporting wait times last spring after a scandal over attempts at many facilities to cover up delays by manipulating the medical network's scheduling system.

Attempts to game the statistics included tricks like keeping unofficial lists of patients who needed to be scheduled for an appointment, so that the full time they spent waiting to see a medical provider wouldn't be documented. It is unclear how effective the VA has been at halting those practices, but it claims to have made great strides.

The problem of long waits and falsified statistics was well known within the VA, and had been the subject of numerous reports by government oversight agencies over the years, but public attention reached such a peak last May that it led to the resignation of VA Eric Shinseki.

President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in August. It made $16.3 billion available to reduce wait times. A hallmark of the legislation was the VA's new "Choice," program, which was intended to ease wait times by giving more vets the option of getting care outside the system.

Vets began getting the ID cards they need to use the program in November, but so far it has gotten only light use. Between Nov. 5 and March 17, according to VA officials, about 46,000 patients had made appointments for private-sector care through the program - a drop in the bucket for a system that averages about 4.7 million appointments per month.

VA officials have been citing modest accomplishments in the campaign to reduce wait times, but they have also said that change won't happen overnight.

According to the VA, the number of appointments completed between May 1 and Feb. 28 was up by nearly 4.5 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. The VA said it has increased the number of vets approved for care in the private sector, though those visits still make up only a tiny percentage of overall care.

Use of the VA system has risen substantially in recent years. Total enrollees in the system ballooned from 6.8 million in 2002 to 8.9 million in 2013. During that same period, outpatient visits have soared from 46.5 million to 86.4 million annually; Patient spending has grown from $19.9 billion to $44.8 billion. The number of patients served annually has grown from 4.5 million to 6 million.

All data collected and prepared by AP staff writer David B. Caruso