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Review: Vets’ deaths, waits unrelated

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A review by the New Mexico Veterans Affairs health care system has found no link between the deaths of dozens of veterans and their place on the waiting list for medical care.

Amid an investigation into lapses in care, the New Mexico VA initially identified 21 people who died while waiting to see a doctor. Officials promised to investigate each case to determine whether any of the deaths were related to a lack of care or delays in seeing a doctor.

The health care system ended up finding an additional 167 patients who died while awaiting various appointments, but VA spokeswoman Sonja Brown confirmed Tuesday there was no association with wait times and any of the deaths.

“This is a situation that can be found at any hospital, whether federal or private, because patients often pass away before their next scheduled appointment,” Brown said. “That appointment may have absolutely no connection to their cause of death.”

The VA learned of the patients’ deaths while reaching out to more than 1,000 veterans who were waiting to see primary care doctors or receive specialty care.

Reports of long delays for treatment and medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics around the country sparked a national outcry earlier this year that led to a shake-up within the problem-plagued agency and a $16.3 billion congressional proposal for revamping the department.

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are hopeful the legislation, once signed by the president, will help rebuild veterans’ trust in the health care system.

The most recent audit of Albuquerque’s Veterans Affairs hospital released last week shows there were 248 veterans on the electronic waiting list, that’s down from 353 two weeks ago and down from more than 1,040 in May. The list includes new patients for whom appointments cannot be scheduled within 90 days.

Brown said the New Mexico VA is still reaching out to veterans to get them in for appointments and recruitment continues for more doctors.

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