Phoenix VA Officials Tout Improvements At Medical Center And Disability Claims Backlog
Local and regional leaders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were at the Phoenix VA medical center Tuesday with an update on patient wait times and disability benefits backlogs.
Interim Phoenix VA director Glen Grippen said much of the progress the medical center is making is in staffing. Grippen said there are 750 open positions right now. He estimated about half of them are from turnover and the other half are new.
Grippen said he was also pleased with some new pay increases coming through for hospital staff. He said while nursing pay is becoming competitive with the community, physician and senior executive pay is still lagging.
Grippen admitted improving wait times at the facility was still a challenge, but said the hospital is also working with increased demand for services with about 950,000 outpatient visits expected in fiscal year 2015. That’s almost 150,000 more than 2013.
"The demand was here that we weren’t meeting," said Grippen. "So certainly we’re trying to meet that demand. And we’re still not there yet, but we are improving."
Wait times for settling VA disability benefits claims are down. Acting VA Regional Office Director Duane Honeycutt said the average claim last year took about 145 days to resolve. This year it’s around 115. Honeycutt credited mandatory overtime but he added claims are now coming in more complete than they had in the past.
"Literally 57 percent of the claims we get in the claims we get in the Phoenix regional office are fully developed," said Honeycutt. "So that allows us to save some time that it takes us going out to try to get evidence. We can process and make the decision quicker."
Honeycut said much of that progress could be attributed to local efforts from veterans services organizations working with vets to prepare their claims.