Blumenthal wants explanation for spike in medical delays for state veterans

Hartford — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called Monday for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ acting secretary, Sloan Gibson, to explain why new data shows that the number of veterans’ medical appointments delayed more than 30 days nearly tripled in June, compared to May.

“Are the present statistics in fact honest and accurate?” Blumenthal asked.

As evidence of secret waiting lists that delayed veterans’ medical appointments surfaced last month, Blumenthal said his office received substantially more calls from veterans. The complaints from veterans in Connecticut reflect the new data that the Veterans Affairs Department released Friday, he said.

As of May 15 this year, 998 veterans’ appointments in Connecticut were delayed more than 30 days; as of June 15, the number of delayed appointments in Connecticut rose to 2,727.

“I want to hear from the state VA officials as well as others who have assured us these delays never occurred here,” Blumenthal said. “What’s the explanation? Either the delays were occurring and they were hidden or they have actually increased over just a month.”

Nationally the number of delayed appointment increased from 242,069 to 636,436. As of June 15, the majority of veterans’ appointments, 5.6 million, were made in less than 30 days, according to the data.

Blumenthal said in his letter to Gibson, “Simply put, the VA seems to be going in exactly the wrong direction in seeking to address dangerous and deadly health care delays.”

So far the VA has released limited site-based data from its audit of 216 VA facilities across the country, which included VA campuses in West Haven and Newington and six community outpatient clinics in Danbury, New London, Stamford, Waterbury, Willimantic and Winsted.

Blumenthal also announced Monday that he has sent a second letter to Gibson requesting site-specific information from the VA audit of 216 facilities nationwide.

“I asked for the disclosure of the individual site audits in order to provide the public — and especially the veterans and their families who use the health care services at these facilities — with a clear understanding of the scope of the problems at those facilities,” Blumenthal said in the letter.

The senator said he expected to be in Washington to speak with lawmakers about the data, which he hoped would encourage lawmakers to pass a bill he helped to create that would provide an additional $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses at VA facilities and allow more veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA system.

j.somers@theday.com

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