VA audit finds widespread scheduling abuse

James Rosen | Tribune Media

The VA’s first comprehensive review of its medical care system found widespread scheduling abuses, data falsification and long waiting times at dozens of hospitals and clinics across the country.

In its audit of 731 medical facilities, released Monday, the VA found that 57,000 veterans are waiting for an initial medical appointment.

Thirteen percent of schedulers told VA auditor that supervisors or other coworkers had instructed them to enter a different date in the appointment system than the one requested by a veteran.

“This audit is absolutely infuriating and underscores the depth of the scandal,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a New York-based advocacy group. “Our vets demand action and answers.”

Eight percent of schedulers said pressure had been placed on them to bypass the VA’s official Electronic Wait List system and maintain unofficial lists in order to make waiting times appear shorter than they actually were, according to VA interviews with 3,772 clinical and administrative staff.

Eric Shinseki resigned May 31 as head of the Veterans Administration after acknowledging that inordinate wait times and scheduling data falsification were more widespread than he’d believed.

A 14-day target for waiting times that Shinseki established in 2011 was unrealistic and “not obtainable,” the audit found.

The problem was exacerbated by tying hospital managers’ bonuses to meeting the 14-day target.

Setting such an unrealistic waiting-time target and linking it to performance bonuses created “an organizational leadership failure,” the audit found.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, branded the audit results “a national disgrace.”

Boehner said the House is considering legislation that would allow any vet who waits longer than 30 days for medical care to see private doctors with subsequent treatment covered by the government.

By James Rosen
McClatchy Washington Bureau