Senior Republican lawmakers called for more changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs after internal investigations found widespread falsifying of patient wait times at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico.
On April 8, the VA’s inspector general released two years of reports totaling 70 investigations, finding that VA supervisors ordered employees to cook the books on wait times regularly, despite a promised crackdown on mismanagement and data manipulation by Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. In some cases, investigators found that VA facilities had been falsifying records for a decade.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the reports “outline a host of serious scheduling issues that masked wait times at VA facilities around the country.”
“And in classic VA fashion, almost no one has been seriously held accountable for any of this wrongdoing,” Mr. Miller said. “In fact, according to VA’s own data, the department has successfully fired just four low-level employees for wait-time manipulation. Right now, it’s incumbent on VA leaders to explain why that’s the case given the IG’s findings of widespread wait-time manipulation and other serious problems.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called for an investigation into whistleblower accusations that the Phoenix VA Health Care System staff had been canceling pending appointments for deceased veterans to conceal connections between the pending appointments and veterans’ deaths, or to improve hospital and clinic wait-time statistics.
Mr. McCain also asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review potential criminal activity at the VA if the latest inspector general investigation uncovers wrongdoing.
“This weekend marks two years since the scandal in which veterans died waiting for care on nonexistent wait-lists first came to light,” Mr. McCain said. “Despite the severity of this national scandal, whistleblowers in Arizona continue to report serious failures at the VA, including gross scheduling violations that closely resemble the widespread wait-time manipulation that led to the crisis of denied and delayed care in the first place. It’s past time for this administration to root out wrongdoing at the VA by holding corrupt executives accountable and finally reforming the culture that is denying our veterans the care they deserve.”
USA Today, which uncovered many of the inspector general’s reports through the Freedom of Information Act, said the probes showed that VA supervisors ordered employees to manipulate wait times in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont, giving the false impression that facilities were meeting VA performance measures for shorter wait times.
In some cases — Gainesville, Florida; White River Junction, Vermont; and Philadelphia, for example — investigators found VA employees kept lists of veterans needing care outside the scheduling system, a violation that also hid actual wait times, the paper said.
The VA said in a statement that many of the problems date back more than two years and that the department has taken many corrective steps since then.
The agency also announced April 8 that it is taking more steps to improve veterans’ access to health care.
“We are working to rebuild the trust of the American public and, more importantly, the trust of the veterans whom we are proud to serve,” said Dr. David Shulkin, VA undersecretary for health. “We are taking action and are seeing the results. We are serious about our work to improve access to health care for our nation’s veterans. We want them to know that this is a new VA.”