You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Critics say VA is evading accountability in wait-time scandal


The Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t disciplined a single Texas employee in the wake of an internal investigation that found systemic manipulation of patient wait time data in Central Texas, according to the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

This week, the VA’s Office of Inspector General released a long-awaited report into allegations of data manipulation that found scheduling clerks in Austin, San Antonio and Kerrville regularly engaged in the practice of “zeroing out” patient appointment requests, which resulted in undercounts of true wait times for care.

Two years ago, the VA came under fire nationally for hiding lengthy wait times in an effort to meet goals of seeing patients within 14 days.

Several employees said they feared discipline action or retaliation if they didn’t input false data. Two schedulers, in Kerrville and San Antonio, told investigators they worried they would lose their jobs if they didn’t enter false wait times in the VA scheduling system.

Supervisors and administrators denied they instructed clerks to engage in data manipulation, blaming the practice on widespread misunderstanding of VA scheduling rules. One administrator said “the concept of scheduling errors seemed to confuse schedulers.”

The inspector general’s report concluded there was no “malicious intent” to cook the VA’s books, a finding that drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“This investigation documents dysfunction on the part of both the Department of Veterans Affairs and its inspector general,” said Miller, R-Fla. “The findings are clear: Scheduling clerks throughout Central Texas manipulated wait time data. And in classic VA fashion, not a single person has been held accountable for any of this wrongdoing.”

According to the VA, 29 employees nationwide have been disciplined in the data manipulation scandal that erupted in 2014 and eventually cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. The scandal began after allegations that numerous VA patients in Phoenix died while languishing on secret wait lists meant to hide the existence of delays for care.

In May 2014, a San Antonio scheduling clerk, who previously worked at the Austin Outpatient Clinic, publicly accused VA officials of submitting false appointment data in Texas, adding that schedulers were also directed not to use an electronic wait list, which could potentially disclose the existence of particularly lengthy wait times. The inspector general’s report didn’t substantiate that allegation.

That whistleblower, Brian Turner, said it is hard to swallow the report’s finding that no one ordered clerks to manipulate data. “How do multiple employees from across the nation share the same or similar concerns without it being a national policy coming from high?” said Turner, who has since retired from the VA. “This report only shows further proof the VA cannot fairly investigate themselves without prejudice. … I find this report as many Americans and my fellow veterans do, a worthless piece of garbage and a tremendous waste of federal funds.”

The inspector general also dismissed several other allegations in reports released this week, including a claim that the chief of imaging services for the Central Texas VA manipulated appointment times for radiological studies.

The VA’s internal watchdog has come under fire from members of Congress and the Office of Special Counsel for delaying the results of its investigations, which in some cases were completed over a year ago. In late February, the VA began releasing 77 reports of investigations across the country. According to the Office of Inspector General, it found intentional data manipulation in 51 cases. The office didn’t address multiple inquiries from the Statesman regarding the South and Central Texas investigation.

Central Texas VA leaders presented the findings as vindication, noting that “the OIG has not substantiated any case in which a VA senior executive or other senior leader intentionally manipulated scheduling data.”

The Central Texas Veterans Health Care System includes the Austin Outpatient Clinic where investigators found that “almost all schedulers and clinics had zero wait times. For the wait time to equal zero, the desired date had to be the same date as the appointment date.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

‘Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme dies at 73
‘Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme dies at 73

Academy Award winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme, best known for directing “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” has died, according to a report. He was 73. An unidentified source close to Demme’s family told IndieWire on Wednesday that Demme died of esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease.
Women, children injured after fleeing teens crash stolen SUV at St. Louis airport
Women, children injured after fleeing teens crash stolen SUV at St. Louis airport

Two women and a pair of children were injured Tuesday when the teenage driver of a stolen SUV collided with the car they were in as the SUV fled police near Terminal 2 at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The car’s driver, a 30-year-old woman, suffered possible broken bones, according to police. She was in critical but stable condition...
Read Pope Francis’ TED talk; pontiff warns of danger of power, need for ‘tenderness’
Read Pope Francis’ TED talk; pontiff warns of danger of power, need for ‘tenderness’

Pope Francis gave a surprise TED talk on Wednesday, telling those listening that the future has a name, and it is “hope.” The pontiff went on to say that while Christians should be optimistic, they should not ignore those who are suffering. Here is the text of his TED talk: Pope Francis: “Good evening – or, good morning...
'Call of Duty’ reveal set for Wednesday
'Call of Duty’ reveal set for Wednesday

The next installment of the video game “Call of Duty” is set to be revealed on Wednesday. While there have been leaks about many of the new game's features, details from the game’s developers have been few. What is known today is that the latest version will return to its original setting, World War II. The “worldwide reveal&rdquo...
Texas House to debate bill to ban ‘sanctuary cities’
Texas House to debate bill to ban ‘sanctuary cities’

Check back throughout the day for updates. Tensions are high at the Capitol on Wednesday as the Texas House gets ready to take up the bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities, which are jurisdictions that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement. Senate Bill 4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and being carried in the House...
More Stories