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About 900 Illinois veterans didn't get the care they requested

By KERRY LESTER JIM SUHR Associated Press

CHICAGO - Data released Monday shows the average wait time for a patient to see a primary care physician at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Danville is nearly four times the federal administration's target of 14 days.

While the average 54-day wait for primary care at the east central Illinois facility pales in comparison to a national high of a 145-day wait for primary care in Honolulu, Hawaii, it was also the highest of Illinois' five major VA medical centers.

The audit of 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics- based on a snapshot of VA data as of May 15 - follows allegations that 40 patients died awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital where employees kept a secret waiting list to cover up delays.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says the report is proof of a "pretty toxic culture of corruption" throughout the department.

His Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, called the news both "troubling" and "unacceptable."

The audit shows the average wait time for a primary care appointment was 38 days at the Marion VA Medical center, 33 days for patients at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital outside Chicago and 41 days at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago had a wait time of slightly more than 14 days.

Abandoned VA guidelines said veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment.

The federal department has since said that meeting that 14-day target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.

Monday's audit by the VA called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials to set it, and then basing bonuses on meeting the target, an "organizational leadership failure."

Nationwide, the audit found that more than 57,000 patients were awaiting initial medical appointments 90 days or more after requesting them, and an additional 64,000 who enrolled in the system over the past decade had never had appointments.

It blamed the VA's complicated appointment process, saying it created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.

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