Disabled veterans had to wait more than two months for the government to fix their wheelchairs, leading to some veterans confined to beds because of mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new audit.
The inspector general for Veterans Affairs reported this week on problems at VA medical facilities in its southeast network with its repair system for scooters and wheelchairs. One vet waited as long as 210 days—roughly 7 months—for his power wheelchair to be fixed.
The inspector general initiated the audit after Senate committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) heard of delays at the Atlanta VA. The audit found that the problem was widespread at eight facilities within the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) in the southeast.
The audit revealed 40 percent of repair orders were delayed, taking an average 69 days to complete.
"These delays occurred because staff and Prosthetic Service managers at the respective VISN 7 VA medical facilities did not always effectively manage and monitor repair requests," the inspector general said. "VA medical facility staff, including Prosthetic Service staff, did not always promptly input repair requests in the consult management system so the requests could be properly tracked."
"The [inspector general's] review of veterans' medical records could not confirm that veterans experienced financial hardships due to delayed power wheelchair and scooter repairs, but it did find some veterans experienced physical hardships like confinement to a bed and a missed medical appointment due to the delays," the inspector general said.
The worst offender was the Charlie Norwood VA in Georgia, which took an average 82 days to repair 200 wheelchairs. The William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA in South Carolina took 77 days on average, and the Atlanta VA took 70 days.
In one case, it took 78 days to replace the battery in a veteran's power wheelchair. The inspector general said the purchasing agent did not take initial action until 69 days after the request came in.
Another veteran needed the wheels replaced on his wheelchair and ended up waiting seven months.
"The purchasing agent had the parts delivered to the veteran's home but did not issue another purchase order to have the casters installed," the inspector general said. "Subsequently, Prosthetic Service staff lost track of the repair and did not issue another purchase order to have the casters installed until 163 days after the agent shipped the parts to the veteran."
"Consequently, the veteran waited a total of 210 days to have the repair completed," the inspector general said.
The inspector general faulted the VA for not having a "timeliness standard" for scooter or wheelchair repairs. The inspector general gave itself a 30-day benchmark for wheelchair repairs, and every facility it examined in the network failed to complete repairs in the one-month timeframe.
"The [inspector general] review of veterans' VA health records found that delays in the repair of veterans' power wheelchairs or scooters could significantly affect veterans' independence and quality of life," the inspector general said. "For example, the [inspector general] identified at least one veteran who was confined to his bed due to safety concerns and waited 108 days for his wheelchair to be repaired."
"Another veteran missed his medical appointment while waiting 32 days for his wheelchair repair," the inspector general added.