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      Wait times for some SC vets average 77 days

      Photo: VA.gov

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV/AP) - Patients seeking care through the Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center in Columbia are waiting an average of 77 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor - more than five times longer than the department's goal.

      A report from the Department of Veterans Affairs released Monday says the average wait time for new patients at South Carolina's other VA hospital in Charleston averaged about 45 days.

      "We're on track to have the fastest growth that we've had here at this facility. Ever," said Scott Isaacks, interim director of the Ralph Johnson VA Medical Center.

      He said more patients are using the facility in downtown Charleston ,but Isaacks explains there are more issues than growth for making improvements at the facility.

      "Twenty-five days is certainly not where we want to be and that's part of the reason that we've committed resources to get all new patients in within 14 days. Our goal is to see patients when they want to be seen," said Isaacks.

      He said those resources include more evening and weekend clinics, overtime for employees, and an affiliation with the Medical University of South Carolina for extra help.

      Still, Isaacks admits there's more to do.

      "Are we perfect? Absolutely not. When we identify an issue, we acknowledge that. We work to make sure that we improve and get better every day," said Isaacks.

      "It's a bureaucratic nightmare," lamented former radio talk show host Nancy Wolf.

      Her late father was a Marine Corp gunnery sergeant during World War II and the Korean War. Even though he died in 2001, she blames the VA for poor service in helping her mother.

      "When it came to a benefit that my father earned while serving that my mother was entitled to, it took almost two years. They lost it," explained Wolf.

      She said her family eventually hired a lawyer to help her mother get the benefits she was entitled.

      Today, Scott Isaacks promises better service for retired military men and women.

      "We want to take care of veterans. So please veterans that are out there, we want to see you. We want to provide your care," said Isaacks.

      Administrators tell ABC News 4 the Charleston VA Medical Center meets or exceeds all of the government's performance measures.

      Also, officials believe when a new veterans hospital in Georgia opens on Friday, wait times in Charleston should improve.

      The department says an audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency's complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.

      VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. The department now says that meeting that target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.

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