Just last week, top leaders including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obama were wondering aloud whether the VA’s problems were limited to a few bad actors. Now, they don’t have to wonder. Messing with schedules to hide long wait times for veterans seeking medical care is “systemic” in the VA’s healthcare system, according to a new report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General. And those “scheduling schemes” are placing veterans at risk.
The new report’s official judgment should resolve any doubt about how deep and widespread these issues are. As of Wednesday, when the report was released, the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) investigation had expanded to 42 separate VA facilities.
Increased calls for political action came swiftly in the report's wake and focused on VA Secretary Shinseki.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee responded to the report in a statement that said Secretary Shinseki should “resign immediately.”
Less than a week ago Rep. Jeff Miller was calling for Shinseki to stay at his post until the OIG completed its investigation but he changed course after reviewing the interim’s report’s findings. In his statement Miller called Shinseki a "good man who has served his country honorably," but said that he seemed “completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department" and that it was “time for him to go.”
In addition to Miller, four other lawmakers also called on Shinseki to resign. The chorus included two Democratic Senators, suggesting that more members of the president’s party are turning against his appointee in the wake of the OIG’s findings.
Though the VA’s problems have been clear for some time, it has been harder to gauge the full consequences and extent of the widespread delays. In the OIG’s report, the impact of the scheduling manipulation can actually be measured in individual veterans affected and days spent waiting for medical treatment.
Wednesday’s interim report focuses on the Phoenix VA where the scandal first broke after a whistleblower revealed widespread scheduling fraud in the facility and dangerous treatment delays for veterans.
In Phoenix, 1,700 veterans in line for medical care were kept off of official records and placed on secret waiting lists. On average it took 115 days, over three months, from the time veterans first reported to the VA until they had their first primary care appointment. Of the 226 veteran’s reviewed by the OIG for their report, 84% waited more than 14 days—the maximum wait time set by the VA—before they saw a medical provider.
To hide those delays, the employees in Phoenix used the same methods detailed in leaked memos provided by the Central Texas VA whistleblower who spoke with The Daily Beast. And, as the OIG’s own report suggests, their motivation for cheating the records was likely the same—to score high marks on performance evaluations and qualify for bonus pay.
According to the OIG, the most common scheduling trick used to hide delays was changing veteran’s “desired dates” for medical appointments. On Tuesday, before the OIG’s report was released, The Daily Beast gave a detailed account of the “desired date” scheme in an exclusive story based on leaked official documents and testimony from a whistleblower who says that scheduling manipulation remains rampant at the Central Texas VA where they work.
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