Two more VA offices falsifying records to hide long wait times, whistleblowers allege

The scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs widened this morning to include two more offices, both in Texas, accused of falsifying records to hide horrendous wait times for medical treatment. Jeremy Schwartz at the Austin American-Statesman reports that a whistleblower within the VA told investigators that he and other employees were verbally ordered to falsely register patient requests so that it appeared that they had to wait very little time for treatment. In fact, the wait times for veterans went to three months in Austin and San Antonio:

A Department of Veterans Affairs scheduling clerk has accused VA officials in Austin and San Antonio of manipulating medical appointment data in an attempt to hide long wait times to see doctors and psychiatrists, the American-Statesman has learned.

In communications with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative body that protects government whistleblowers, the 40-year-old VA employee said he and others were “verbally directed by lead clerks, supervisors, and during training” to ensure that wait times at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic and the North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio were “as close to zero days as possible.”

The medical support assistant, who is seeking whistleblower protection and has been advised to remain anonymous by federal investigators, said he and other clerks achieved that by falsely logging patients’ desired appointment dates to sync with appointment openings. That made it appear there was little to no wait time, and ideally less than the department’s goal of 14 days. In reality, the clerk said, wait times for appointments could be as long as three months.

The claims echo recent allegations that VA officials in Arizona and Colorado similarly manipulated wait time data or maintained secret lists to obscure lengthy wait times for medical care. Three top administrators at the VA medical center in Phoenix have since been put on leave and the VA’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into an alleged secret wait list at the facility. A retired doctor at the Phoenix facility told CNN that more than 40 veterans there died while waiting for an appointment.

That brings the total number of offices to four — so far. Given the geographic dispersal of these locations, it’s almost a sure bet that these aren’t the only VA offices that have been told to falsify records. It’s also almost a sure bet given the distribution of incidents that the direction for this practice isn’t just coincidentally happening on a local level, but is coming from up above the office level, and above the regional control level.

Two Republican Senators had already demanded the resignation of CA Secretary Eric Shinseki over the first revelation about the Phoenix office:

Two Senate Republicans have called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in the wake of reports that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system , which worked to cover up the long wait times by creating a secret waiting list an later destroying the evidence.

The two senators, Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas, echoed the call from two major veterans groups. The American Legion, which is the nation’s largest veterans group, and Concerned Veterans for America, have both said Shinseki should step down.

“The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service that our veterans deserve,” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday. He also called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to investigate the issue with emergency committee hearings.

Harry Reid made the blunder of getting ahead of the story by defending Shinseki:

Shinseki wasn’t “fired” for his advice on the Iraq War; his retirement had already been announced prior to that, although he was pointedly not asked to stick around. Reid talks about the burden that Congress imposed on Shinseki by demanding better record-keeping at the VA, but he’s been VA Secretary since January 2009, more than five years ago. Shinseki is responsible for the issues of access and wait times, and now it appears that multiple offices have been told to falsify records to comply with Congress’ mandate on wait times. If Shinseki’s not responsible for the VA’s performance and lack thereof after 5-plus years, exactly who is?

So far, Shinseki isn’t going away:

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday he won’t resign, but will work to rebuild confidence after the nation’s largest veterans organization called for him to step down Monday amid allegations of inadequate treatment of patients at some VA facilities.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Eric Shinseki said his department will strive to improve its communication and collaborate with veterans-advocacy groups. The retired Army general who took over the agency in 2009, also highlighted what he said were positive changes during his tenure.

“I serve at the pleasure of the president,” he said when asked if he would be resigning. “I signed on to make some changes, I have work to do.”

We’ll see. It might have been easier to hold out when the corruption involved just one field office. With a pattern emerging and with Shinseki’s long tenure, though, his position will become more and more untenable. Reid and Barack Obama had better start thinking about a replacement soon, preferably before more whistleblowers emerge to make both look like even bigger fools.

Update: Investors Business Daily predicts we’ll see much the same kind of corruption with ObamaCare:

ObamaCare simply builds on this failed model — expanding access to “free” or “low cost” care while rationing access. Most blatantly, it does this by expanding Medicaid. But patients in many private ObamaCare plans have found that a multitude of doctors and hospitals are now off limits.

The so-called “Accountable Care Organizations” ObamaCare forces into existence are little more than newfangled HMOs, which long ago developed a reputation for rewarding doctors who denied patient care.

Then there’s the new Independent Payment Advisory Board for Medicare. While officially banned from rationing care, the board can achieve the same end by setting payment rates so low that seniors will have trouble finding doctors who’ll see them.

As ObamaCare’s tentacles reach further into the nation’s health care system, so too will come schemes to ration care, along with the inevitable political pressure to cover it all up.