As Tampa Bay's two veterans hospitals have demonstrated, it is easier to claim patients are being treated more quickly by redefining waiting lists than actually getting patients to see doctors sooner. Veterans who have served their country deserve better than to be treated as pawns in a numbers game. The James A. Haley Medical Center in Tampa and the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in Seminole should aggressively address the waiting lists for care instead of redefining the meaning of waiting lists.
Last month, Haley changed the number of days a patient must go without an appointment before being placed on a waiting list from 30 days to 120 days. Like magic, its waiting list for outpatient appointments looks much better. The waiting list dropped from 4,981 in March to 1,800 in April. That doesn't mean more patients were actually seeing a doctor sooner.
It turns out that Bay Pines made the same change in late 2010, after the VA changed its national policy and eliminated the 30-day rule altogether without setting a new one. In April, 269 veterans were on the hospital's waiting list compared to 1,408 in December 2010. The accounting shift has allowed Haley, Bay Pines and other VA facilities around the country to pat themselves on the back for vastly improving scheduling outpatient appointments.
With more veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq needing treatment, a 30-day wait to be placed on a waiting list was bad enough. Extending that wait to 120 days to create the illusion of better efficiency at the hospitals is unfair to the veterans who deserve better.