VA officials seek more time to explain discrepancies

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 05:34 PM

Federal officials have asked for more time to respond to U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s call for an explanation of the discrepancy between reports on how long veterans are waiting for a first mental health care visit in Durham.

A national audit indicated that new patients at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center wait an average of 104 days for mental health appointments – the worst in the country on that mark.
But in a news release, Durham VA, officials countered that they couldn’t validate that data. More than half the new mental health patients were seen within 14 days during the current fiscal year, the release said. They also said the average wait time for new patients was 25 days.

In a letter to Joan Mooney,  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs, Butterfield asked why the news release contradicted the audit. He asked for a response no later than Wednesday.

“These conflicting claims within the same Department are a glaring example of the systemic failures within the VA healthcare system,” Butterfield said in a statement. “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 also asked what actions the department will take to address veterans’ wait time for new mental health appointments if the average wait is 104 days.

Kim Atterbury, Butterfield’s communications director, said officials from the U.S. Department Veterans Affairs’ legislative affairs department called to ask for more time to respond to the congressman’s question.

“They said they will get us their response on Friday,” she said. “So when we get that on Friday…the congressman plans on responding and releasing their responses to (his) questions.”