Veterans' hospitals have been plagued with inefficiencies, including long wait times for admittance - far beyond what might be found at a private hospital. Both presidential candidates are trying to win veterans' support for the election.
Sick veterans have been left waiting an average of 10 hours for emergency room admission at one Veterans Administration hospital and little has been done by management to improve the situation, according to an investigation that paints a far less glamous portrait of veterans' care than the administration has offered.
Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have aggressively courted veterans this election year, and the government has launched ads and held events to boast about the improving care of returning soldiers inside the VA system.
But the VA inspector general found untenable wait times inside the crowded, overworked emergency room of the VA's Memphis, Tenn, hospital. One patient, for instance, had to wait a whopping 14 hours to be admitted for emergency care, including seven hours for a consultation that should have only taken a single hour, the agency's internal watchdog reported Wednesday.
The average wait time for admission was 10 hours on August 1, 2011, according to a 2012 inspection that was prompted by veterans' complaints. That's more than double the national average wait time of four hours for non-VA hospitals according to the American College of Emergency Physicians. No lives were put at risk because serious and life-threatening injuries were treated immediately, and patients with concerning medical issues were properly monitored, after being seen by a triage nurse within half-an-hour.
The mind-numbing waits -- which the inspector general called a "chronic problem" -- came as the patient tried to see a physician or be transferred to another hospital, the report said.
And management has offered little to improve that performance, the report said. "We found lack of a coordinated, system-wide effort to solve known problems," the inspector general reported.
Part of the problem at the time of the inspection is that the Memphis facility offered just 22 emergency room beds. The VA says it has added 15 more to try to improve the situation but otherwise agreed with the findings and recommendations of the watchdog report.
Given the long delays, the inspector general reviewed the cases of the five people who had died at the hospital in 2011 and found no wrongdoing on the part of the staff. The patients were treated immediately.
But most patients with non-life threatening injuries hopefully brought a good book. The report said more than a quarter of patients had a wait longer than six hours.
Part of the issue stemmed from the shortage of beds, which caused nursing staff to get creative, in one instance putting a patient on a cot next to a nursing station so he could be monitored, the report said.
The conditions are in sharp contrast to the VA's own portrayal of its health care system. The agency's Web site is filled with announcements and studies boasting it is making strides to "provide world-class health care."
And VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki boasted at a speech in June to a veteran group that the agency's budget, care and capabilities have grown signficantly since President Obama took office.
"The President's commitment to Veterans ... is genuine, it runs deep, and it is unwavering," Shinseki declared, rattling off priorities ranging from better healthcare to more accurate compensation claims.
The agency also has launched an ad campaign to attract more veterans to VA health care facilities, some like Memphis which are already overburdened. To compensate, the agency has been building new facilities, including one recently in Las Vegas.
The Veterans Affairs Department or VA is the government's agency to care for veterans and their families, including providing medical treatment.
VA Hospitals are government-run medical facilities designed to handle the medical needs of veterans. There have been many reported incidents of long-wait times and delays for service at the facilities.