Butterfield ‘deeply troubled’ by VA response

Jun. 23, 2014 @ 05:55 PM

N.C. Congressman G.K. Butterfield said he was “deeply troubled” by the response that he got Friday as to why two reports differed on the average wait time for new mental health care patients at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

A national audit of Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics found, according to a June 9 report, that new patients at the Durham VA 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.
Butterfield had asked for an explanation of the difference by last Wednesday, and got an answer Friday.
In what she called an interim response, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney said the reason the two averages are different is that one is the actual wait time for a period of time in the past, while the other report was a look at a wait-time for future appointments.
The national audit data predicted the availability of appointments in the future for new veterans, the letter said. In contrast, the Durham VA was using data from one or two months in the past, based on when appointments actually occurred, and taking into account appointments that were moved up, canceled, rebooked and missed.
“The prospective waiting time data predicts how we might do with wait times; the retrospective waiting time data tells how we actually did,” Mooney’s letter said.
Mooney said she was only providing an interim response while Robert L. Jesse, the acting under secretary for health, was preparing a more complete response.
In a news release, Butterfield urged Jesse to provide a thorough response to his questions by Wednesday. He said the data from the two different sources was “misleading and unclear” and that he was disappointed that the two different sources weren’t able to clearly define the wait time for new mental-health appointments.
“One side is talking about prospective, the other retrospective,” he said. “Veterans don’t care about that.”
He said they were using different methodologies for informing the public, and he thinks “those two offices need to reconcile their findings, and give veterans one projected length of time they can count on.”
Butterfield also said he was “deeply troubled” by the interim response because the VA “did not provide clear, sufficient and complete responses regarding the wait times that new mental health patients at the Durham VAMC are facing, particularly after the VA received more time to respond.”
According to an update to the Department of Veterans Affairs audit data posted June 19, there was improvement shown in the average wait time for mental health care in Durham. However, the average wait time was still the highest for new patients of any other facility included in the analysis.
The data showed that the prospective average wait time was about 62 days for a new patient seeking mental health care, while it was about three for an established patient.
For specialty care, the average was 58 days for a new patient, compared to five for an established patient. And for primary care, the average wait was 62 days for a new patient, compared with about six days for an established patient.
The data showed that actual average wait times for new patients in April were 34 days for primary care, 32 days for specialty care, and 23 days for mental health care.