- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - An Alabama congresswoman said a new report is the strongest evidence yet that patient-scheduling manipulation was standard operating procedure at Veterans Affairs health care facilities in central Alabama.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released data to Congress showing that 57 percent of the staff surveyed at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System said they were instructed to change the dates of when a veteran asked for an appointment. That compares to nearly 13 percent nationally, 17 percent at the Tuscaloosa VA and 9 percent at the Birmingham VA.

By altering the date of an appointment request, a VA hospital or clinic can mask how long veterans have to wait to see a health care professional.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery said Tuesday that the VA report “shows what we have long suspected: that the rampant scheduling manipulation in Central Alabama wasn’t some misunderstanding, but rather a facility-led, standing operating procedure.”

She said the Central Alabama VA numbers were “off the charts” compared to similar facilities. The Central Alabama VA includes major facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee.

The director of the Central Alabama VA announced last month that three employees involved in manipulating the wait time data had been reassigned.

Roby said the latest report adds to a string of problems, including a VA pulmonologist who was caught manipulating more than 1,200 patient records, at least 900 patient X-rays that were lost until recently, and a VA medical officer who asked staff to remove all references to the problems from a report.

The VA report provided to Congress on Monday surveyed thousands of employees at more than 900 VA health care sites over five days in May, when the wait-time problems were breaking. The Alabama figures were first reported by the Montgomery Advertiser.

In the survey, the Central Alabama VA staff gave itself a customer service rating of 2.7 on a scale of 5, with 5 being the highest. Birmingham and Tuscaloosa came in at 3.8.

Roby joined Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama in writing to new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to try to get him to visit the Montgomery facility. “Reports regarding the treatment of veterans in Alabama are dire and appalling,” they wrote Tuesday.

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