Hawaii VA has plan to curb long wait for new patients

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 145 days.  That's how long veterans are waiting to see a primary care physician for the first time in Hawaii.   It's the longest wait time in the country.  Harlingen, Texas ranked second at 85 days.

"Absolutely outrageous," says Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.   She spent time with veterans all over the state and says the frustration was clear.

"This is a crisis, this is an urgent crisis that requires action," says Gabbard.  She says she wrote a letter to President Obama asking that he allow veterans to go to doctors in the private sector while the Department of Veterans Affairs undergoes a major overhaul.

Lawmakers are working on legislation for a long-term fix to the problems with the VA but in the meantime, Gabbard says veterans deserve to be seen sooner.

"Our veterans deserve better," says Senator Brian Schatz, "We're working hard on legislation that will likely move through the Senate... to increase access to care by 50%."  Schatz says hundreds of millions of dollars needs to be poured into the VA.

The data released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs says new patients in Hawaii wait almost five months to get an appointment at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center.

Wait times at the center are better for established patients.

"We're definitely not pleased with that number," says Brandon Yamamoto with VA Pacific Islands Health Care System.   A new director was hired about eight months ago and there is a plan in place.

"There are many different issues involved, we need to get more providers on board," says Yamamoto.  He says more nurses and administrators are needed so that doctors can focus on seeing patients instead of getting bogged down with admin work.  Yamamoto also says a new doctor has been hired and will help ease the burden.  He hopes veterans will see a difference in the next few months.

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