Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS - Navy veteran Simon Moore says, when it comes to getting care at the VA Hospital, patience is key.

'Appointment schedules is kind of hard right now. They're backed up,' said Moore.

Access to care was one of the key issues at a meeting on veterans health care Thursday night in Federal City.

The most recent statistics show the average wait time for a new patient to see a primary care doctor is 31 days. The wait time is four days for an established patient.

'I think we have some unique challenges. We rebuilt a health care system after Katrina largely through piecing together lease property really without a hospital, without a central location for care,' said Jimmy Murphy, deputy director of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Healthcare system.

Officials say many of those problems will be solved once the new VA hospital opens. They say the 30-acre site in Mid-City will have 120 medical beds, plus in-patient rehab and mental health care.

It's a big improvement over the current facility, which has no in-patient care.

'I believe [it] will be the premiere facility in the city, and most likely the premiere facility in the VA,' said Murphy.

The first VA employees began to move into the new administration building last week. The rest will move in, in phases, until the hospital opens in 2016.

But those like Moore can't wait that long. And so the local VA is working to improve access now. It has expanded evening and weekend hours to focus on caring for new patients. And it has a $110 million budget this fiscal year to provide veterans with care outside the VA.

But veterans say there are still challenges.

'If they're booked ain't nothing we can do about it but wait until the time comes,' said Moore. 'I think it is overcrowded and they don't have enough doctors.'

An audit found issues with the way the local VA was classifying appointment dates. Veterans health care officials say they're addressing the issue.

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