Palo Alto VA positions itself within national scandal

Local hospital claims 18-day wait times for new patients seeking primary care

In light of the recent scandal involving false record-keeping and long wait lists at VA hospitals in other parts of the country, the Palo Alto VA is making efforts to encourage open dialogue about its stance on the issue, including a meeting this Thursday with local elected officials.

The meeting, though not open to the public, is an effort to put Palo Alto ahead of the curve in the Veterans Affair controversy, spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson said.

"A lot of vets are concerned, of course, but not all VA's are the same," he said. "That's the message were trying to get out there: 'If you're in Palo Alto, you're OK.'"

A 35-page independent report conducted by the VA's inspector general released May 28 found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial, secret wait lists, a practice that helped staff hoping to cover up delays in treatment of patients. The report drew from reports of 226 veterans who had sought appointments at the hospital in 2013, finding that 84 percent had to wait more than two weeks to be seen. At least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments in Phoenix, according to CNN.

Though the report focused on evidence from the Phoenix hospital, it called the practices a "systemic problem nationwide." Similar allegations have emerged at other VA hospitals across the country, with 42 centers now under investigation for falsifying wait records.

As of April, the Palo Alto VA is four days shy of the 14-day national metric for new patients seeking primary care, with an 18-day average, Hill-Jackson said. For mental health patients, the average wait in Palo Alto is one week. Hill-Jackson said these numbers are updated on a monthly basis.

For established patients, Palo Alto accommodates appointments within five to six days, Hill-Jackson said -- though wait-time count for new patients starts from the date the scheduler makes the appointment, while the wait-time count for established patients starts from the date for which the patient requests the appointment.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, condemned what she called "longstanding and widespread" failure within the Veterans Administration but said the Palo Alto VA's high level of service and access should serve as an example for the agency moving forward.

"This longstanding and widespread failure is inexcusable, and, in response, I've voted for legislation in the House to address the mismanagement at the Veterans Administration -- to bring about accountability, transparency, and right this listing ship," she wrote in an email.

"I will also look to our own VA hospitals in the 18th Congressional District to lead by example. ... Veterans surveyed on their satisfaction with the Palo Alto VA consistently score it above the national average for all VA medical centers and in the top 25 percent in the region for access to outpatient care. More VA systems should be striving for this level of excellence."

A staff member from Eshoo's office will attend the Thursday meeting in Palo Alto.

The VA Palo Alto Health Care System consists of three inpatient facilities located at Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Livermore, plus seven outpatient clinics in San Jose, Fremont, Capitola, Monterey, Stockton, Modesto and Sonora.

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Like this comment
Posted by Arthur Adams
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

My experience with the VA hospital in Palo Alto has been outstanding! I am a veteran of WWII and have nothing but praise for their attention!!! Art.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What should not get lost in this current controversy is that the VA provides great health care to the vast majority of the veterans entrusted to their care and that 99% of the VA employees are doing a superb job. I know this from very personal experience - I am an Agent Orange Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with incurable leukemia 12 years ago. For the last 12 years I have received all of my medical care at the Palo Alto VA and that care has been superb. I make this statement with some personal familiarity with health care delivery having been the Executive Director of the Stanford University Medical Center.

Yes, let's clean up the current mess but don't overlook all the great work done by VA employees every day.

1 person likes this
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Well said, Peter. And thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Benjamin Martin
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2014 at 11:36 am

There are some honest to god decent people working there and some careless people who should be arrested,otherwise it is not particularly significant to what is going on across this nation.

As someone who did two tours in Iraq though,I'd would kindly thank Rep. Eshoo for trying to wade in this debate.She could try and go there herself and she would get a more comprehensive view of this place.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tony G.
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

I have been using the VA Palo Alto for a decade. A cancer survivor after being diagnosed 5 years ago I can state that by direct comparisons the care/operations I received is equal to or superior to civilian hospitals . My primary Doctor sees me 2 x per year on schedule and a phone nurse is available to help and to arrange any other appointments I may need. I receive no cost services for all service related injuries including any dental requirement( 2 implants) I was diagnosed with PTSD (paid at 100%) and have been treated by a board certified Psychiatrist and attend a Vet Venter for professional assistance on a weekly basis. I have stopped a lifelong alcohol addiction with the help of VA specialist psychologist. Stanford residents are constantly learning at VA palo Alto which means your Stanford Doctor may well have acquired many skills at VAPO. The only fly in the ointment is that only approx. 60% of the medications available to civilian Dr.'s and hospitals are available to any Veteran Hospital or facility. Although not a direct problem for me other vets have been denied medications because of lack of availability. VA Palo saved my life from a aggressive cancer,helps maintain my health, helped me to stop alcohol abuse and treats me as individual, and respects my military service. It's not perfect system but I earned my care in advance 50 years ago on the battlefield . Ten years ago when I entered my first Vet center for treatment the consular said to me "Welcome Home"-Then as now, I tear up when thinking of that moment. She was the first person in my life to welcome me back from war.

Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

keep in mind that there is a home for veterans in yountville. some fine doctors practice at the VA. pray for better treatment for veterans. these hospitals can be improved on, for sure

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:50 pm

> the VA provides great health care to the vast majority of the veterans entrusted to their care

This is kind of a meaningless, fact-free, off the point cheerleader statement ... apparently not all of them got such great care ... or care at all ... and some vets died because of that ... please do not minimize this issue with this kind of jump in and flag wave comment.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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