The long wait for medical care and claims is not the only problem plaguing some veterans hospitals.
There also is a backlog of high-tech medical equipment that has been paid for but not distributed, contributing to the wait times, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said Wednesday at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park.
The Buffalo VA Medical Center, for instance, currently is waiting for at least nine pieces of ordered equipment and, for some items, has waited more than two years, he said. The equipment includes a new MRI, patient lifts and catheterization procedure devices.
“Our veterans risk their lives for us. It is our obligation to take care of them quickly and well,” he said at a press conference by the Vietnam Memorial.
Schumer said industry experts estimate that as many as 900 pieces of equipment may be backlogged nationwide and blamed the delays on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Acquisition Center outside of Chicago, which handles the procurement of expensive and high-tech medical equipment for the department.
“It’s the fault of the VA bureaucracy and not the veterans hospital here,” he said.
The acquisition center handles more than 2,000 contracts worldwide and annual sales of more than $16 billion, according to information on its website.
“We appreciate the support of Sen. Schumer in helping our mission to care for veterans,” said Evangeline Conley, public affairs officer for the VA Western New York Healthcare System.
She said the region’s VA system reviews requests for new and replacement equipment based on need and urgency, as well as availability of funding. High-tech medical equipment that costs more than $50,000 must be procured through the National Acquisition Center, she said, and delays also may result from the need to construct areas in preparation for housing machines.
If a service or diagnostic test is not available within the VA, Conley said, patients get referred to medical providers in the community.
Schumer praised President Obama for making changes at the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs, which has suffered intense criticism for long waits for appointments and allegations that officials falsified waiting lists to understate the problem.
Last month, Obama nominated Robert McDonald, a former chief executive officer of Procter and Gamble, to lead the department following the resignation of Eric Shinseki. Schumer said he would appeal to the new VA leadership to address the equipment backlog.
Veterans hospitals in Upstate New York – including the Buffalo VA Medical Center – were cleared of wrongdoing in a Veterans Affairs Department audit released in June that found excessive wait times and questionable appointment scheduling practices at some other such facilities.
Advocates for veterans praised efforts to improve procurement.
“The procurement process is antiquated,” said Patrick W. Welch, president of VetsHerd Inc.
Roger L. Woodworth, president and chief executive officer of the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York, characterized the initiative by Schumer and others as a “catalyst” for improvement.
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs could not be reached for comment.