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Officials claim improvement at Phoenix VA hospital

From left to right: Glen Grippen, Interim Director, Phoenix VA Health Care System. Duane A. Honeycutt, Acting Director, Phoenix VA Regional Office. Jerry Rainey, Director, National Cemetery of Arizona (Bob McClay/KTAR)

PHOENIX — One year after complaints of long wait times, officials at the Veteran’s Hospital in Phoenix say that things are getting better.

Phoenix VA Health System Interim Director Glen Grippen says there will be about 100,000 more doctors appointments there this year than there were last year.

“They’re going to probably push close to 1,000,000 veteran’s appointments this year, which is a considerable increase from the last two (years),” Grippen said.

Phoenix VA Regional Office Acting Director Duane Honeycutt said that veterans are waiting less time to get their claims approved.

“Last year at this time, it took us 145 days, on average, to decide a veteran’s claim,” said Honeycutt.  “Today, we’re at 116.9.  That’s a 29 day improvement.”

Honeycutt said that one reason for the improvement is that the veterans are showing up with all of their paperwork.

“Literally, 57 percent of the claims that we get in the Phoenix regional office are fully developed (meaning the veteran has presented all of the necessary documentation).  That allows us to save some of the time that it usually takes to try to get evidence.  We can process and make the decision quicker.”

Another reason for the cut in the number of days is that VA employees are putting in extra effort.  Every worker at the hospital is required to put in at least 20 hours of overtime each month.

Even after problems at the VA hospital in Phoenix led to a nationwide scandal last year, a potential change could mean less oversight over the facility.

Right now, there are 21 Veteran’s Administration divisions overseeing VA facilities all across the country.

“There has been a proposal to the VA Secretary to look at restructuring to reduce the divisions from 21 to 18,” Grippen said.

Right now, Phoenix is in a division that includes Albuquerque and west Texas.  If the realignment is approved, Grippen said that would change.

“We and Albuquerque would move to Division 22, which is Los Angeles,” he said.

Because that division includes the heavily-populated Southern California area, Phoenix might not get as much attention.

“The Secretary, obviously, has the right to look at things and make changes as necessary,” said Grippen.

When asked if he thought that having VA officials in California be charged with the duties of overseeing what’s going on in Phoenix is a good idea, Grippen replied,  “probably not.”

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