By: Martin Evans
Four Long Island members of Congress are asking for answers concerning an apparent discrepancy in data on waiting time for appointments at the federal Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.
The lawmakers had effusively praised operations at Long Island's primary veterans health facility three weeks ago after a scandal erupted over other VA facilities around the country.
But Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford), Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) said Thursday they want the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain differences between how fast Northport officials say patients get doctors' appointments there and what a national VA audit of Northport reported.
"Today we sent a letter to the national VA requesting answers as to why there is a discrepancy," they said in a joint statement. "We have also requested a meeting with the Northport VA to ensure that we are properly updated on the care they are providing to our veterans."
Northport spokesman Joe Sledge said officials there are confident in the level of service they offer and are looking into whether a difference in reporting methods could explain the discrepancy.
The VA headquarters in Washington ordered an audit of the nation's roughly 150 VA medical centers after a whistle-blower at one in Phoenix revealed schedulers there kept two sets of books to mask long wait times. The whistle-blower asserted that 18 veterans had died while waiting the extra time.
The national audit data released Monday said new patients seeking appointments for mental health issues at Northport wait an average of 25.23 days -- more than twice the 11.2 days reported by Northport's administrators. New patients seeking specialty medical care at Northport wait an average of 39.87 days, according to the audit -- two weeks longer than the 22.75-day average wait reported by Northport officials. New primary care patients waited an average of 25.07 days, the audit said -- more than a week longer than the 16.51-day average cited by Northport's administrators.
"We need to get answers as to if and why this discrepancy exists," said Samantha Slater, a spokeswoman for Israel.
King said he has received "virtually no complaints" about Northport in more than 20 years. "That is why my colleagues and I have requested additional information . . . ."