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Good Question: Do Vets Have To Visit VA For Care?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There is increasing pressure on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

A new report from the VA's inspector general says hundreds of veterans are awaiting care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.

The average wait time is almost four months for a first appointment.

The inspector general says scheduling problems like this are a problem throughout the Veterans Health Administration.

Investigators say at the Phoenix VA, some vets waited 115 days to see a doctor. The hospital said they waited just 24 days.

Dan McLaughlin is the director of health and medical affairs at the University of St. Thomas.

"It's kind of sad that it came to this state that people had to fabricate records about waiting times," McLaughlin said. "[Veterans] don't have to go through the VA. And a lot of veterans have private insurance anyway, so they will choose not to go to the VA."

VA benefits are sorted into groups based on service and injury. Many vets have full benefits and want to use the system because the hospital specializes in veteran health care.

WCCO-TV reporter Reg Chapman uses the Minneapolis VA, which was ranked as one of the best in the nation last year.

If there's a backlog, the VA can send a veteran to a private hospital.

"However, they have a budget," McLaughlin said. "So they can't do that all the time, or they'll run out of budget money. So it's like any government system, they have to stay in their budget."

The VA spent $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non VA hospitals. That's about 10 percent of their budget.

The Obama Administration announced last weekend that it will allow more veterans to obtain treatment at private hospitals in an effort to improve care.

"I think the eventual result is going to be some combination of the VA health care system and a little more integration into the private system," McLaughlin said.

Investigators say that as many as 40 people died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA. However, it's not clear yet if those deaths were linked to a delay in treatment.

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