PORTLAND -- After reports of preventable deaths at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital, a top official at Portland's VA hospital said federal auditors were checking in to make sure a similar situation wasn't happening in Oregon.
Auditors were on site last week looking for evidence of secret wait lists similar to those found in Phoenix, according to Floss Mambourg, the Acting Deputy Medical Center Director of Portland's VA hospital.
“The auditors are saying we’re okay,” said Mambourg. “There are training needs. There are issues where we can match the policy better. But we don’t have problems with secret lists or the kinds of accusations you’ve seen in media across the country.”
Which is not to say the Portland VA is perfect when it comes to wait times.
Mambourg said in a typical year, 880,000 appointments are set. Of that, three percent do not meet the VA’s own time goal of being set within 14 days of when the veteran wants it.
That three percent number means roughly 30,000 appointments take longer than 14 days.
Nicky Colon, who served three tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army, knows all about the delay.
“It takes a lot not really more than 14 days,” he said.
Gordon Denman served in Korea as an Airborne Ranger. He’s impressed with the VA medical staff but not the scheduling of appointments.
“Sometimes to get into your primary care, it’s like pulling teeth without anesthetic. And it hurts just about as bad,” Denman said.
Denman said he fell a while ago and badly hurt his shoulder. It took three weeks to see the doctor and learn he needed surgery.
“I just fault the, I guess, people in the office. You know they’ve got a job to do to schedule people in and dog nabit I know they can schedule people in faster than what they do!” he said.
VA delays are now a hot political issue. Oregon Congressman Greg Walden issued a video release after the house passed a bill targeting VA management.
“This common sense bill would make it easier to fire or demote senior level managers at the VA who are failing to live up to their responsibilities to our veterans and their families,” said Walden.
Mambourg, the Acting Deputy Director, is aware of the problem. “I’m not going to deny that we have people waiting longer than the 14 days,” she said.
She said doesn’t like it any more than the veterans.
“Yes, we are very concerned about that. We’re putting lots of emphasis on growing programs, growing our staff and growing our capacity to provide that care,” she said.