The investigation into VA practices is hitting close to home. A new report released this week says staffing at the Gulf Coast VA Health Care facilities in Biloxi is inadequate.
That report was completed by the Office of the Inspector General. The OIG inspection of the Biloxi VA system reported that physician staffing in the Community Living Center, which is part of the Extended Care Service, only has one physician.
The Extended Care Service has four physician vacancies, and no ongoing active recruitment for those spots. The report went on to say the Community Living Center has not been fully staffed with physicians for more than two years.
For the past two years, WLOX Action Reporter A.J. Giardina has been investigating complaints by veterans of slow service at the Biloxi VA. Last week, President Barack Obama addressed allegations of delays in treatment at VA medical centers across the country, calling for more investigations and demanding reform. Since the president's news conference, A.J. has heard from several more coast residents with complaints about long waits to get treatment at the Biloxi VA Medical Center.
We've learned from a reliable source at the Biloxi VA that some doctors will no longer take new VA patients because the doctors have not been paid.
Several VA patients also called complaining about a lack of doctors. One of those patients is Tyrone Gray of Pass Christian. He said after waiting about two and a half months to see a VA doctor to follow up on a back problem, Gray chose to pay out of his own pocket to see a doctor outside of the VA system.
"I basically got to a point where it's come to a standstill and I've taken it upon myself to go to a Neurologist and get opinions on my own to determine that the issue that I had," Gray said. "It needed attention."
Gray chose to have the doctor outside of the VA perform neck surgery, instead of waiting months again to have a VA doctor look at his neck.
We contacted VA Public Affairs Officer Jerron Barrett about the delays in veterans seeing VA doctors and the claims that doctors at the VA weren't paid on time.
Barrett sent me a statement from the South Central VA Health Care Network that said: "We are working diligently to resolve payment backlogs and are currently processing 67 percent of claims within 30 days. We acknowledge there have been unacceptable delays in processing fee claims. Additional staff have been hired and a specific email set up for vendors to submit their concerns."
WLOX has learned that some VA surgeons can no longer operate at the Biloxi VA because of the number of patients who have died following surgery.
VA Gulf Coast Health Care System Chief of Staff Dr. Kenneth Simon responded to the allegation.
Dr. Simon stated, "We monitor the care that we provide on an ongoing basis across all local services in our organization and when we identify that services may be provided by a clinician are inconsistent or out of step with the community standards. We review those services internally. We review those services externally using other VA teams, if we feel that it impacts patients' safety and is not consistent with the community standards, then we take the appropriate steps."
Dr. Simon would neither confirm nor deny that some Biloxi VA doctors can no longer perform surgeries.
The statement from the South Central VA Health Care Network concluded with this: "We want Veterans to know that the VA is here to care for them... and provide the high quality of care and benefits they have earned and deserve."
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