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VA appointment problems hark back to Phoenix scandal

Doctor Looking at a Veteran's VA Records

By Concerned Veterans for America

Joshua Stanwitz, a coalitions director with Concerned Veterans for America in Arizona, was just starting his journey with the VA health care system when news of the Phoenix VA wait list scandal broke seven years ago.  

The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, found out that the local VA hospital had been maintaining two sets of wait lists – an official electronic list and an unofficial, secret paper list. More than three dozen veterans died while waiting for an appointment.  

For Stanwitz, an Army and Marine Corps veteran, learning that his local VA hospital was at the center of a deadly scam led to a loss of faith in the institution that was created to serve him and his brothers and sisters in arms.  

In a new op-ed in the Arizona RepublicStanwitz draws a parallel to the scandal from 2014 and the situation today, in which the VA has canceled millions of veterans’ appointments with no way to track follow-up.  

“Limiting access to care, not tracking the next steps for canceled appointments, and neglecting to calculate and share accurate wait time data is a recipe for disaster,” Stanwitz writes.  

And, he argues, without quick action, “the question will not be whether there is a crisis, but rather when it will come to a head and how bad the damage will be.”  

Since the 2014 scandal, the VA and Congress have taken steps to address some of the problems. Most significantly, the VA MISSION Act expanded opportunities for veterans to access community care. But lengthening wait times due to the pandemic threaten that progress.  

Read more about how the Phoenix scandal shined a light on what happens when veterans aren’t put first at the VA, and about the lessons Congress and the VA should have learned as they deal with the latest crisis.