How big of a clue bat does someone need to be hit over the head with before they begin to get the message? After all of the scandals which have embroiled the VA since 2014, you’d think that the one thing every manager around the country would be keenly aware of was the national sense of public outrage over veterans being kept waiting for months on end for critical medical appointments and VA medical facilities lying about it. But the memo apparently didn’t reach the center in Houston, where the exact same thing has continued to happen well into 2016. (Investors Business Daily)
After being alerted by a whistleblower that leaders at a VA Medical Center in Houston were telling staff to falsify wait times, the Veteran’s Affairs inspector general took a look.
What the IG found is alarming. More than a year after the national scandal broke that exposed widespread delays and attempts by officials to hide them, this clinic was still masking chronic wait times for veterans…
Of those 223 veterans, 42% ended up waiting an average of 81 days before getting a new appointment. But by misreporting the reason for the cancellation, the clinic was able to claim that these veterans had waited just 3 days.
As a result, the IG says, “recorded wait times did not reflect the actual wait experienced by the veterans.”
What’s perhaps most damning about this report is that the method being employed by the supervisors seems to indicate that they knew they would be under scrutiny and were looking for a new way to cook the books. Rather than simply erasing appointment records, they would cancel appointments made by veterans, causing them to reschedule. But the rules indicate that wait time calculations are “reset” if the patient is the one who cancels, so for each appointment they canceled themselves, they recorded it as the patient requesting the cancellation.
In that way, they could vastly reduce the recorded wait times. Veterans waiting more than 80 days to see a doctor were recorded as having waited only three days. Once again, it looked great on paper, but patients were put literally in danger of their lives. One of the first to report on this atrocity was Jim Geraghty at National Review.
The day VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned, President Obama declared, “We’re going to do right by our veterans across the board, as long as it takes. We’re not going to stop working to make sure that they get the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they’ve earned and they deserve. I said we wouldn’t tolerate misconduct, and we will not. I said that we have to do better, and we will.”
As some of us noticed eight years ago, all statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date. All of them.
Did the Houston VA think that everyone had gotten busy with other concerns of the world and simply forgotten? If nothing else, the veterans themselves have been keenly following these stories and seeking a remedy. When they began seeing their appointments pushed back further and further, surely the facility administrators knew that someone would complain. And all of this is happening at the same time as we’re debating the power and role of the IGs in various executive branch departments. It’s obvious that more oversight, not less, is required in a department which increasingly seems to be fundamentally broken.