WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has reached out to nearly 140,000 veterans in the past two months to get them off waiting lists and into clinics for medical appointments.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson revealed the number Thursday as the VA released new audit figures showing improved patient access at 731 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.
The announcement follows a national outcry over reports of patient deaths and treatment delays at VA facilities across the country.
As of June 15, about 46,000 veterans waited at least 90 days for their first VA medical appointments, the agency said. That's down from 57,000 who waited more than 90 days as of May 15.
An additional 7,000 veterans had never gotten an appointment for VA care, despite seeking one over the past decade, the VA said. That's down from about 64,000 veterans who did not get appointments as of May 15.
Despite the improvements, Gibson said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care.
On Thursday officials confirmed that one veteran collapsed in an Albuquerque Veterans Affairs hospital cafeteria, 500 yards from the emergency room, and died after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance.
Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five-minute walk.
The audit of patient access information released Thursday is the third released by the VA in the past month as the agency seeks to address systemic challenges in providing care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans. Audits of 731 VA hospitals and clinics also were released June 9 and June 19.
"There is more work to be done," Gibson said Thursday. "We must restore the public's trust in VA, but more importantly, we must restore the trust of our veterans who depend on us for care."