Politicians: Jacksonville VA wait times unacceptable

Leaders call for change following report that average new patient waits 77 days

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Washington report that revealed Jacksonville's VA hospital has the longest wait times for new patients has state and federal leaders calling for change.

The VA hospital in Gainesville took heavy fire when the Veterans Administration scandal for wait times erupted last spring.

Recently, though, it was revealed that Jacksonville's clinic was initially overlooked in the firestorm because its data was averaged in with Gainesville's.

Now the average wait time of 77 days for new patients has the attention of Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

"When I first heard about it, I said, 'Wait a minute now. I am the ranking member, I'm the No. 1 person. This is my clinic,'" Brown said. "So I scheduled a meeting with them as soon as I got in. I met with them for over two hours and wanted to know what was going on."

Brown said she has already launched the fight to reduce long wait times in veterans hospitals and clinics.

As the senior Democratic member of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the U.S. House, Brown said she believes the system needs adjustment, not an overhaul.

She also said a veteran needs to receive all the services he or she deserves.

"He needs health care, social case work, so it's a multiplicity of things that we have to do to make sure we take care of the veteran," Brown said.

One of those veterans, Robert Allen Bamsey, said he's had a good experience with the VA clinic in Jacksonville. The Vietnam veteran spent much of Friday at the hospital for evaluations after he moved to the area in the past month.

But research from Washington showed the Jacksonville clinic made new patients wait, on average, two and a half months for care.

"Let's get something done," Scott said of the wait times. "Why wouldn't they want our inspectors to come in and help them find out what the problem is?"

Scott said the federal system is broken and needs some outside intervention. So far, Scott said Washington has said "no thanks" to the help Scott is offering, which would be Florida inspectors intervening at the federal facilities.

"Veterans deserve good health care and they shouldn't be waiting in line forever. They also ought to let the people know what's going on," Scott said. "You can't do it without measuring it. You can't do it without transparency. That's what we need out of the VA."

Scott emphasized that the VA has a lot of good workers. but he feels the system is messed up.

Congresswoman Brown said the system is good but agreed that wait times are unacceptable.

Brown pointed to two big factors locally: The Jacksonville area has a lot of veterans, the second-largest number in the country, and she said Jacksonville is the fastest-growing place for veterans.

About the Author: