- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Employees of a veterans health care system for Nebraska and western Iowa maintained an unauthorized, secret waiting list of veterans for some Omaha mental health appointments, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs documents.

The list dodged strict VA requirements for establishing and maintaining waiting lists, according to a compliance officer’s memo to the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System. The Omaha World-Herald reported the compliance officer’s audit included whistleblower complaints made about unauthorized lists for appointments at the VA’s mental health psychotherapy clinic in Omaha.

The VA set up strict requirements for establishing waiting lists following a 2014 scandal that showed VA employees were covering up chronic delays with false paperwork and secret lists. It was reported in 2016 that 40 medical facilities maintained secret lists. The Omaha facility had not been among those 40.

VA officials acknowledged the audit’s conclusions but wouldn’t say how many Nebraska or western Iowa veterans were affected. They also declined to say who kept the unauthorized list and why, or say how many employees were involved.

“Although no adverse patient outcomes occurred, some veterans waited longer for psychotherapy treatment,” the VA said in a statement. “Employees involved with this situation were held accountable; however, none was terminated from employment.”

The VA’s Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System audit was conducted this year. It covered cases of 301 unnamed veterans from Nebraska and western Iowa who were added to the VA’s official electronic waiting list between August 2016 and August 2017.

One of the whistleblower complaints included a paper waiting list dating to January 2014 of about 400 veterans who’d requested psychotherapy appointments. The whistleblowing employee said the unofficial logs were used in place of the VA-authorized electronic waiting list.

According to the audit, the employee said the VA established therapy groups in order to meet the VA’s standard of scheduling mental health appointments within 14 days, because the group sessions satisfy the requirement for consultation. The veterans would get individual appointments later as they became available.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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