Obama transition team was told about 3 audits showing VA misreported wait times

Inspector frustrated with efforts to dire situation

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“Everything is news to the White House. The veterans’ problems are news to the White House until they hear it through the news media,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “Somebody needs to be in charge at the White House, and somebody needs to start taking responsibility.”

While not mentioning him by name, the inspector general’s transition memo referenced Dr. Michael Kussman, assistant secretary of health under Mr. Bush, who rejected the recommendations for policing wait times.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Dr. Kussman declined to comment. He said he did not recall responding to the inspector general and declined an offer to be provided a copy of the memo.

In a 2008 memo, Dr. Kussman made no secret about his reaction to the third report in as many years into wait time problems. In a letter to the inspector general, he wrote that the report contained “misleading implications and unfounded innuendo.”

Dr. Kussman questioned the inspector general’s methodology and said some problems are inevitable because schedulers are typically the newest and least-experienced staff. “Given the circumstances, errors are inevitable,” he wrote.

While Dr. Kussman acknowledged “levels of imprecision in our waiting times data,” he added that nobody has been able to identify a more effective way to track and monitor wait times for almost 40 million annual appointments.

The inspector general’s office, in a rare public display reflecting just how contentious the wait time issue had become inside VA, fired back: “We can only conclude that VHA’s stated intention to correct recognize and long-standing problems is not sincere,” the watchdog office noted in a 2008 report.

The inspector general made incoming Obama officials aware of the dispute.

“Since the report in 2005, OIG issued reports in 2007 and 2008 concerning these issues, and both subsequent reports confirmed that problems and causes associated with scheduling, waiting times and [electronic waiting lists] are systemic throughout VHA,” the VA’s office of inspector general wrote in a memo to the Obama-Biden transition team weeks after the 2008 election.

Among those who helped oversee the work of the transition for Veterans Affairs was Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

His campaign did not respond to a phone message Wednesday.

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