VA wait times shorter than private hospitals? Not everyone is buying it.

Matt Saintsing
January 24, 2019 - 1:04 pm

ID 108066812 © Florin Seitan |

Wait times at VA facilities have been significantly cut and are now shorter than those seeking healthcare in the private-sector in urban areas, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised the study in a statement saying the department “has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care” since the 2014 wait-time scandal that rocked the department and caused former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army General to resign.

“This study affirms that VA has made notable progress in improving access to primary care, and other key specialty care areas,” said Wilkie. 

The study focused on wait times at VA clinics and private hospitals in 15 major cities for primary care, dermatology, cardiology, and orthopedics specialties. The authors conclude that there’s “no statistically significant difference between private sector and VA mean wait times in 2014.” For 2017, the report finds “mean wait times were statistically significantly shorter for the VA.” 

Wait times in VA hospitals in 2014, the authors note, was 22.5 days on average. In the private sector, the average shrinks to 18.7 days. But in 2017, “mean wait time at VA hospitals had gone down to 17.7 days while rising 29.8 for private practitioners.” 

But not everyone is buying what the JAMA study is selling. 

Specifically, critics of the study have pointed to former VA Secretary David Shulkin being listed as an author in an apparent conflict of interest. Others are concerned about the years the data spans across. 

“The number of appointments in the private sector went from 22 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2017,” Dan Caldwell, executive director of Concerned Veterans of America tells Connecting Vets. “Clearly the VA’s use of private sector had some impact on wait times.” 

As with all bodies of research, there are limitations. The study notes that rural areas—where almost one in four veterans live—were excluded from the analysis and that other studies are needed to “analyze access to the entirety of VA health care. 

The study also used a “secret shopper” methods, which involves calling private health care providers to ask how long a patient would have to wait for an appointment. 

“That’s not the most accurate way of measuring wait times,” adds Caldwell.

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