BOISE -- Newly acquired data on wait times at Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide shows Boise's veterans have some of the best chances to see a doctor quickly,. But because some VA facilities are being investigated for doctoring the wait time numbers, KTVB looked deeper at the numbers, and talked to current and former employees.
The Department of Veterans Affairs nationwide failed to treat three out of five veterans within its 14-day target period for care, according to data compiled by our partners at USA TODAY. USATODAY also notesthat those numbers could actually be even more dismal, since recent audits show rampant fraud in official appointment records.
Boise VA has some of the lowest average recorded wait times in country
From the database of, 140 VA facilities and their reported wait times over a six month period ending this past March 31, Boise's VA Medical Center has some of the lowest average wait times for patients.
Data from October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014 shows 52.3 percent of new patients in Boise were seen within 14 days. The average wait time in Boise is only slightly higher than target, at 15.7 days. Boise ranks 115 out of the 140 based on that average, putting it in the top 20 percent.
Can the numbers be trusted? The VA has confirmed 42 facilities are under investigation for possibly falsifying wait time records. KTVB asked the Boise VA Medical Center about the new data and if Boise is one of the facilities being investigated. Officials there say it is not one of the facilities investigated for false records.
The Boise VA Medical Center was recently part of the VA's national scheduling audit and all Boise VA scheduling practices were found to be in compliance with national VA standards. The Boise VA is not one of the 42 VA hospitals currently under investigation, Grant Ragsdale, Boise VA Medical Center Associate Medical Center Director, wrote to KTVB.
Further, Ragsdale said their numbers from the year to date show 97.7 percent of all Boise primary care patients are seen within 14 days for their desired appointment date . He also wrote, The Boise VA Medical Center does not have a waiting list for patients desiring enrollment into our system of care.
Former employees say practices in prior years could have 'stacked' numbers
At least two former employees from the last ten years tell KTVB there used to be a primary care waiting list and numbers may have looked better than they were, at least a few years ago.
One of the former employees said while they were there around five to ten years ago, they personally put people on lists that would keep numbers from going higher than 14 days. They said it was to make the numbers look better, they would stack them .
There was not enough doctors to see all the veterans that were coming in at that time, the former employee said. If they could not schedule them within 14 days or sooner, they would put them on a certain wait list... They told us to do it, and the employees did it.
The former employee says they believe what they did back when they worked there was misleading, but says anyone who needed urgent medical care got it, and they believe the Boise VA Medical Center has top-notch care overall.
What was happening at the Boise VA, I don't believe anybody was put in harm's way with what the Boise VA was doing. I don't think, in my opinion, anyone died on the waiting list because of a problem they presented to the hospital with, but there was a waiting list for primary care patients. Period, the former employee said.
Boise VA: Primary care wait list no longer exists
After asking Ragsdale about the former employee's claims of a wait list in prior years, he said it was a practice that no longer exists for primary care.
Periodically, when we have had key staff vacancies, we have developed a waiting list while we have recruited a replacement provider. It has been many years since we have had a waiting list for primary care patients, Ragsdale said.
VA employees union VP: Boise is currently aboveboard
Travis Riggs, the current vice-president of the VA employees' union, American Federation of Government Employees, participated in the recent federal audit and said Boise would be seen as one of the best in the nation. He further said no wrongdoing is happening at the Idaho facility.
We would have been the first to blow the whistle, Riggs said.
Riggs used to work at the VA as a scheduler and confirmed there were different practices years ago, saying, They were under some pressure to meet these numbers, and there might have been a few people who wanted the numbers to look good.
Riggs says the issues were not a directive to change numbers as much as some confusion and a desire to make the Boise VA look good. He doesn't think many were involved, and he says by 2010, a memo came out nationwide to say some things were going on to game the system and that all VAs needed to stop.
Riggs says Boise didn't need to change much, but he says the facility immediately complied. He says moving forward, more than looking at the numbers and wait times, he says funding should be the highest government priority.
Congress needs to fund the VA so we have the resources we need to take care of America's heroes, Riggs said.