Veterans Affairs
3:12 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

South Texas Veterans Group Details Big Problems With Harlingen VA Clinic

Credit U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Staffing issues, longer wait times for doctor’s appointments and lack of medical vouchers are just some of the problems at veteran medical clinics in the U.S.

One South Texas veterans support group has seen firsthand the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Harlingen, which has the country’s second longest average wait time according to a federal audit.   

The VA released their VA Access Audit this week, which shows Texas has eight VA medical centers with the worst wait times. The average wait time at Texas Coastal Bend HCS in Harlingen was just over 85 days.

Retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gabriel Lopez is part of the South Texas Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Association, a veterans group that has been tracking medical care at the Harlingen clinic.

“They would tell us they were understaffed, that they didn’t have vouchers and then we started seeing that we’re going to have a problem here in couple of years because we have an enormous amount of veterans that are leaving the Iraq and Afghanistan wars," Lopez said. "You’re not going to be able to maintain the pace."

Lopez said the group is tracking each South Texas veteran case of someone trying to be seen by a doctor. He said the 85-day wait time at the Harlingen clinic is not the worst he’s heard.  

"The worst case that I have heard is over 18 months, and you have to understand we didn't even know there was a such a thing as a 14-day desired window,” Lopez said.

Lopez said veterans would be scheduled for an appointment a few months out, but because the clinic was so understaffed at the time of the appointment the veteran would be placed back at the bottom of the waiting list.

Lopez said he doesn't believe officials with the clinic were trying to harm anyone, they were just caught up the VA’s administrative culture. His organization is asking that the problem get fixed, that veterans get seen by a doctor and the VA become more transparent.