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VA officials say veterans' care is improving

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

“The STL medical center has definitely improved drastically, not just by sight, from appearances, but definitely for care — and this is a facility that is constantly growing,” said Carmen Gamble, a VA relationship manager who oversees systems in four states, including Missouri.

At this time last year, average wait times for the three types of care were less than 10 days in St. Louis. Still, Reginald Hill, a service officer for the American Legion, said the patients he works with are having an easier time.

“There’s still some room for improvements because emergencies come up like they would at any hospital, but under normal circumstances they try to get you in within 30 minutes of your appointment,” Hill said.

Although 95 percent of appointments are scheduled within 30 days, that’s slightly worse than in 2014, when uproar over wait times for some veterans led to a federal law allowing them to seek care elsewhere.  

Since then, VA patients have used the Choice Act program for 11,630 appointments with community providers in the St. Louis region. Some do so because they live more than 40 miles away from a VA doctor, and others because the earliest available appointment was more than 30 days away.  

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.