PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After nearly 700 area veterans waited up to a year for medical treatment, local VA officials have taken a pro-active stance.

“It’s important to veterans,” Dr. David Macpherson, acting director of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, told KDKA’s Jon Delano on Thursday.

“They want to get their appointments at a time they want them, and that’s just good clinical care. So we are kind of refocusing our efforts over the last several months in this area, and I think we’re making progress,” added Macpherson.

That involves UPMC facilities to help reduce a backlog where 67,000 veterans a year are treated.

“Our goal — when we looked at veterans waiting for care — we wanted to make sure that all of those veterans got the care that they needed within 30-day time frame,” said Dr. Ali Sonel, chief of staff of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

“That was the target that we established for ourselves, and in some clinics we were not able to meet that demand within 30 days.”

So the VA asked UPMC to help.

”We already have the infrastructure in place to deal with referrals and literally within 48 hours we had the system in place,” said John Innocenti, president of UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.

Nearly 300 veterans have already been referred to UPMC, about 15 to 20 a day.

The process is pretty straightforward.

If the veteran has not been seen by the VA in over 30 days, the VA is supposed to call that veteran, and then conference in the UPMC or call center.

At that point, UPMC will refer the patient a specialist. The target — see the veteran within 72 hours.

“Right now, we’re getting the overflow in specific areas — orthopedics, ophthalmology, some of the ancillary services like pain, sleep studies, mammography,” added Innocenti.

Of course, this isn’t free. Taxpayers are paying UPMC to help the VA clean up their backlog.

Delano: “How much are taxpayers paying to refer to another facility?”

Sonel: “I don’t have the exact figures in terms of the cost.”

Local VA officials say it’s covered, and their focus is patient care.

“The staff here provide excellent to outstanding care,” said Macpherson. ”We always have work to do. We always have things to improve upon, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

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