The Veterans Affairs system operates more than 1,000 facilities. A look at some regions where waits were longest over a six-month period beginning on Sept. 1 and ending Feb. 28:
It's a long drive from the tip of Florida's panhandle to Jacksonville, on the Atlantic coast, but with some detours you can hit four of the most delay-prone VA outpatient clinics in the country. The VA clinics in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Panama City and Pensacola collectively completed 250,000 appointments during the six-month period. Nearly 13 percent of those visits involved a wait of longer than 30 days, well above the national average of 2.8 percent. In Jacksonville, 7,117 appointments involved a wait of more than 60 days — more than in the entire states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut combined.
When the U.S. government built a veterans hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1923, the idea was to create a haven for black servicemen excluded from "whites only" medical facilities. From September to February, that facility and its sister medical center in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, struggled more than any other VA hospitals to meet the department's goals for timely access to care. About 9 percent of patient visits involved a wait of longer than 30 days.
Of the 100 VA hospitals and clinics with the most patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 10 are in Georgia. A small VA clinic near Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, has been among the worst performers. About 13 percent patient visits involved a wait of more than 30 days. It has close to the longest average wait for mental health care in the country. At the VA hospital in Dublin, one in 36 appointments involved a wait longer than 60 days.
Eastern North Carolina:
North Carolina is home to the Army's Fort Bragg, the Marines' Camp Lejeune, and nine of the 50 VA medical facilities with the most patients waiting more than 30 days for care. Around 16 percent of the vets getting treatment at the clinic in Jacksonville, North Carolina, had to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. Close to 1 in 9 patients there had to wait longer than 60 days to see a caregiver. The VA has opened several new clinics in the state in recent years to deal with long waits, but those new and expanded sites haven't met expanding demand.
Hampton Roads, Virginia:
A home to U.S. naval power, and a popular spot for military retirees, the Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia also ranks among the worst places for a vet to get a timely appointment at the VA. About 7.3 percent of the appointments completed at the VA hospital in Hampton failed to meet the department's timeliness standards. At the outpatient clinic in Virginia Beach, 18 percent of patient visits involved a wait of longer than 30 days — although things have been improving. The clinic completed nearly 89 percent of its visits in a timely fashion in February, compared to 76 percent six months earlier.
Tennessee and Kentucky:
The VA has opened a host of small medical clinics in rural Tennessee and southern Kentucky, and while they treat a modest number of patients, those that do come are among the most likely to face a long wait for care. Thirteen of the 100 VA sites with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days are in the two states. The outpatient clinic in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, has the highest percentage of delayed appointments of any VA clinic in the country. Nearly 20 percent of the 5,377 appointments completed at that facility involved a wait of longer than 30 days, and things have been getting steadily worse since the summer.