Congressman Ted Deutch hosted an emergency meeting of veteran and community organizations Friday to discuss the investigation into veterans' access to healthcare at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities both nationally and in South Florida.
Deutch said the national investigation is just beginning and that his office has not yet received local documents yet to determine whether there’s an issue with veterans’ healthcare in South Florida.
“It's too soon to conclude that everything is fine. There is still a significant effort required to make sure that everything works in the most efficient manner possible to provide care to our veterans when they need it,” said Deutch, D-Boca Raton. “We need to move past blame and make sure we are delivering care to our veterans.”
At a roundtable of Palm Beach and Broward County veterans advisory councils, Deutch updated nearly two dozen representatives on the widening scandal involving scheduling practices that hid the amount of time veterans were waiting for healthcare services provided by the VA. An audit report revealed scheduling gaps including nearly 770 new patients at the Miami VA Healthcare system that had waited for more than 90 days to see a doctor.
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The audit, released Monday by the VA, found more than 57,000 veterans across the nation have been waiting 90 days or more for a first-time VA doctor appointments. The VA's goal is for first-time patients to see a doctor within 14 days, a daunting task given the growing demand and system inefficiencies.
Despite the investigation, which resulted in VA Secretary Eric Shinseki‘s resignation last month, veterans at the meeting Friday praised the level of care at VA facilities.
Along with the wait lists, Deutch said he is focusing on the 41,000 uninsured Florida veterans who are without access to healthcare because they are ineligible for VA healthcare benefits. He called on the Gov. Rick Scott to convene a special session to approve Medicaid expansion which could cover some veterans. Among the requirements for VA care eligibility, a veteran must have served two consecutive years and have been honorably discharged.
“This is not a political issue,” he said. “I know Florida's leadership has talked about a real commitment to helping our veterans. Now it's time for them to show it.”