Supervisors instructed employees to incorrectly document patient wait times at Veterans Affairs’ hospitals in at least seven states, according to a USA Today’s analysis of over 70 investigation reports released in recent weeks.
Employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico routinely “zeroed out” veterans’ wait times, and in some cases, these practices have been going on for as long as a decade. In others, it has only been a few years.
Many facility bosses told investigators that they focused more on scheduling improprieties after the Phoenix scandal. This was when as many as 40 patients who were waiting for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix died, sparking outrage that resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, according to NBC News.
The inspector general launched an investigation after media outlets broke news in 2014 that there were widespread scheduling delays across the country, reports The Chicago Sun Times. However, other facility leaders continued to falsify wait times even after the scandal, masking the growing demand for care as veterans returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans grew older and needed more healthcare.
In Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont, supervisors told schedulers to manipulate wait times to give the incorrect impression that the facilities were meeting the VA’s performance measures for shorter wait times.
An example of this corruption came from the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital near Chicago. A social worker came forward in 2014 alleging that patients were placed on secret waiting lists. The social worker said that when appointments became available, patients were put into official logs, giving the impression that the hospital was in compliance with the VA’s target wait time of 14 days. In 2014, executives and doctors received bonuses that were partially based on wait times, according to The Chicago Sun Times.
This news comes just a few weeks after the Department of Veterans Affairs suspended the head of the Veterans Benefits Administration on March 22, 2016 for allowing two lower-ranking officials to manipulate the VA’s hiring system for their own benefit, reports U.S. News and World Report.
Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill was suspended without pay for 15 days for his role in the scam that affected the agency for months.
Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, says that accountability at the VA “is almost non-existent.”
“One thing is clear,” Miller said. “This dysfunctional status quo will never change until we eliminate arcane civil service rules that put the job security of VA bureaucrats ahead of the veterans they are charged with serving.”
As recently as October, the Government Accountability Office said the VA’s wait time system is prone to scheduler error and produces unreliable data, according to USA Today.
Editor’s Note: Information from USA Today, The Chicago Sun Times and NBC News was used in this report.