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Puget Sound VA Says It's Making Progress In Reducing Its Waitlist For Primary Care

The head of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Michael Murphy, says the agency is making progress in getting veterans in to see a primary care doctor, but he says there’s still a lot more work to do to improve care for veterans in this region. 

The U.S. health system for veterans has been under intense scrutiny for months after it was revealed that Veterans Administration employees had doctored records to show shorter wait times for appointments.  

Murphy says so far there’s no evidence that shows that was happening around here. But wait times for some veterans have been extremely long.

Murphy says in December, there were about 1,500 veterans who had been waiting longer than 90 days to get seen by a primary care doctor. Since then, that number has dropped by more than 90 percent.

"We’ve been able to do this by some recent very aggressive recruiting successes, hiring some additional clinical support staff, increasing the size of our primary care panels a little bit and expanding our offerings of after-hours clinics," he said. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., visited the Puget Sound VA to get an update on efforts to get patients seen more quickly. She says now that primary care patients are getting appointments faster, there may be a spike in wait times to see specialists.

She says the system still needs more doctors and more health care facilities — something Congress has taken steps to address recently by passing a $16 billion reform bill for the VA. 

But Murray says there are many troubling problems confronting veterans. 

"Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide in this nation," she said. "We know of the sexual trauma issues that are facing many of our veterans. We know of the homelessness issues facing our veterans. We know of a multitude of other issues that we need to continue to address."

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.