MILWAUKEE (AP) – More doctors are needed to combat the problem of long wait times at Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Thursday.
The Wisconsin Democrat has introduced a bill that would create 2,000 residency positions over five years at the hospitals. Residency is the next step in doctors’ training following medical school.
“We must address the underlying issue of the serious physician shortage at the VA in order to address the unacceptable wait times our veterans are experiencing,” Baldwin said in a statement.
The bill introduced Tuesday also would require the VA to allocate the residency positions based on doctor shortages at its facilities and to prioritize training for specialists who are needed.
A recent audit found veterans waited an average of 51 days to see a primary care doctor at the VA hospital in Madison. They waited an average of 24 days in Milwaukee and 17 days in Tomah. Wait times for specialists and mental health services were at least 26 days in all three locations.
The VA has a 14-day target for wait times, but said previously that was “not attainable” given growing demand for VA services and poor planning. Veterans in other states have died while waiting for care.
Wisconsin’s five Republican congressmen have sent a letter to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson asking what steps have been taken to address wait times at facilities here.
The legislation Baldwin introduced Tuesday has support from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the medical school at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. House by Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, of Nevada, and Mark Takano, of California.