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VA investigation turns up widespread problems with scheduling, wait times

Los Angeles Times

May 28. 2014 8:25PM

WASHINGTON — An investigation of wait times for medical care at Veterans Affairs facilities has found “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic” through the VA and “instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times,” prompting new calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The VA inspector general’s interim report, released Wednesday, shows the investigation has expanded to 42 facilities, more than a dozen beyond the previously reported 26.

At the Phoenix VA, the main subject of the interim report, investigators “substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care,” finding about 1,700 veterans who were waiting for an appointment but were not on a waiting list.

“A direct consequence of not appropriately placing veterans on EWLs (electronic waiting lists) is that the Phoenix HCS leadership significantly understated the time new patients waited for their primary care appointment in their FY 2013 performance appraisal accomplishments, which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases.”

Sen, Kelley Ayotte, R-N.H, said the Obama administration has been too slow to react to the VA problems.

“The IG’s interim findings confirm reports of systemic, gross misconduct at the VA, denying care to thousands of veterans at one facility alone while employees gamed the scheduling system. Such treatment of our veterans – who have served and sacrificed so much for our nation — is shameful, and the administration’s response so far has been totally inadequate. Fixing these serious problems must be the administration’s highest priority – starting with new leadership at the VA. The Justice Department must also thoroughly investigate evidence of criminal conduct and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. said she is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation — the VA Management Accountability Act— to give the Veterans Affairs secretary the authority to fire or demote senior employees based on performance.

“The Inspector General’s preliminary findings released (Wednesday) are horrendous and underscore the need for immediate action,” Shaheen said. “We need to not only implement reforms, but there must be accountability for those who have failed the thousands of brave men and women who have served our country. I am cosponsoring the VA Management Accountability Act, which is identical to legislation I supported last week in the Senate Appropriations Committee, because it will help hold those responsible for the misconduct at the VA accountable for their actions.”

The report prompted Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to immediately call for Shinseki’s resignation.

Miller said the report confirmed “beyond a shadow of a doubt what was becoming more obvious by the day: Wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country.”

“VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” Miller said in a statement. “Shinseki has proved time and again he is not that leader. That’s why it’s time for him to go.”


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