A new audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that disabled veterans had to wait more than two months for the government to fix their wheelchairs, resulting in some veterans being confined to beds.
The report, released by the inspector general for Veterans Affairs, examined challenges with repair systems for scooters and wheelchairs at VA medical facilities in the southeast network. One veteran waited approximately seven months for his wheelchair to be repaired, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
The audit was initiated after Senate committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R.-Ga., was informed of the delays at the Atlanta VA, although the problem was found to be prevalent at eight facilities within the Veterans Integrated Service Network in the southeast.
According to the audit, 40 percent of repair orders for wheelchairs and scooters were delayed, and took an average of 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,” said the inspector general.
The systemic breakdown was the worst at the Charlie Norwood VA in Georgia, which took an average of 82 days to repair 200 wheelchairs. Other problematic facilities included the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA in South Carolina, which took 77 days on average, and the Atlanta VA, which took 70 days.
One veteran was forced to wait 78 days for the battery in his wheelchair to be replaced. Initial action on the request was not taken by the purchasing agent until 69 days after it was received.
Another veteran waited seven months for the wheels on his wheelchair to be replaced.
“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 VA was faulted by the inspector general for not establishing a “timeliness standard” for scooter or wheelchair repairs. The inspector general issued a 30-day benchmark for wheelchair repairs, and every facility it examined in the network failed to complete repairs within that 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.