Read that headline again. One hundred and fifteen days on average when the official/bogus VA wait list showed an average wait of just 24 days. In reality, sick vets were waiting nearly five times as long as Phoenix administrators were claiming. And while the IG declines to make any concrete accusations as to motives, he does seem to have a hunch.
This is what a “crime syndicate” looks like.
To date, our work has substantiated serious conditions at the Phoenix HCS. We identified about 1,400 veterans who did not have a primary care appointment but were appropriately included on the Phoenix HCS’ EWLs [electronic wait lists]. However, we identified an additional 1,700 veterans who were waiting for a primary care appointment but were not on the EWL. Until that happens, the reported wait time for these veterans has not started. Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process. As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment. A direct consequence of not appropriately placing veterans on EWLs 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.
To review the new patient wait times for primary care in FY 2013, we reviewed a statistical sample of 226 Phoenix HCS appointments. VA national data, which was reported by Phoenix HCS, showed these 226 veterans waited on average 24 days for their first primary care appointment and only 43 percent waited more than 14 days. However, our review showed these 226 veterans waited on average 115 days for their first primary care appointment with approximately 84 percent waiting more than 14 days. At this time, we believe that most of the waiting time discrepancies occurred because of delays between the veteran’s requested appointment date and the date the appointment was created. However, we found that in at least 25 percent of the 226 appointments reviewed, evidence, in veterans’ medical records, indicates that these veterans received some level of care in the Phoenix HCS, such as treatment in the emergency room, walk in clinics, or mental health clinics.
The IG also took care to note that, of the 42 VA facilities where his teams are now gathering evidence, none received advance notice that they were coming. Why? Because he’s worried about “the risk of destruction of evidence, manipulation of data, and coaching staff on how to respond to our interview questions.” That was the key takeaway from the Daily Beast “crime syndicate” story that Ed blogged this morning — even the higher-ups inside the VA know or should have known that this has been going on, and since everyone’s potentially culpable, the chances of a conspiracy to cover it up are unusually high. (The IG notes at one point that the DOJ may eventually be involved here in a civil or criminal manner.) This is what caring for America’s soldiers has come to, a race against time to ferret out evidence of egregious negligence towards sick vets before the “caretakers” can sweep it under the rug. And that’s not the only evidence of deep dysfunction. The IG says he’s heard “numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility.” Is that run-of-the-mill backbiting and score-settling among employees or is the Phoenix VA really this troubled in its internal operations?
Via the Daily Caller, here’s McCain calling for Shinseki’s resignation. Obama said last week that he wanted to reserve judgment and see what the investigations turned up before he made any personnel decisions; a week later here we are, with the IG reminding readers up front that fully 18 reports about scheduling problems at the VA have been issued by his office since 2005. How many more “studies” does Obama need? Pull the plug already.