VA: 93 percent reduction in waits at Puget Sound clinics

SEATTLE -- It's been a difficult year for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Wait times for veterans seeking medical care has been up to 60 days in Washington.

But Friday, alongside Senator Patty Murray, the Director of Puget Sound healthcare system says improvements are being made at VA clinics and hospital across Puget Sound.

"We've seen a 93 percent reduction in the tool we use to track waits since our peak last December," said Michael Murphy with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

That peak number, according the Department of Veteran Affairs, was a nearly 60 days. That's how long veterans had to wait to receive primary care through VA Puget Sound.

"Primarily, it was staff shortages," Murphy said.

But now Murphy says they have added more support staff, hired additional clinical staff, increased primary care, and expanding offerings at after-hours clinics. Now, new primary care patients will wait 40 days to get care, while established patients have to wait approximately 8 days.

"This is long term issue and I am committed to following this through to make sure our veterans get the care they need," Sen. Murray said.

That's good news for veteran Walter Burkhart Smeier, who blames his spinal stenosis on walking those steel decks during his Navy days. But he says that's nothing compared to the challenges he's had to deal with when it comes to appointments and care with the Seattle VA.

"It is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period," he said.

And that's why so many change have been made. Extra support has been financed through the system's budget.

Murphy says he hopes to be back at full staff for primary care by August and will continue making improvements in training and management.

"The Puget Sound staff is just looking forward to moving ahead with our efforts to continue meeting the healthcare needs of our veterans," he said.