Workers at a Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., regularly falsified documents to show that patients were seen by doctors within 14 days of requesting an appointment.
In fact many had waited months for medical care.
The findings were part of a report by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector, which was obtained and first reported by USA Today.
Nearly half of the Fort Collins clinic’s 6,000 veterans were behind on scheduled appointments, the report found. Staffers were instructed to fake paperwork to make it seem like the VA was meeting its 14-day goal, and those who reported longer wait times were put on a “bad boys list,” the paper reported.
“By entering [false data], the wait time for that patient appears to be zero days,” the report said. “The wait times were actually much longer. … Employees reported that scheduling was ‘fixed.’”
The report also noted that inspectors couldn’t find any instances in which Fort Collins patients were harmed because of the practice, but veterans are reported to have died while waiting for medical care at other VA clinics.
A retired doctor claimed that 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix hospital, an allegation that USA Today said the VA couldn’t corroborate, but which it was investigating. The doctor said the Phoenix staff had also entered false data to hide the delays in care.
In tracking the timeliness of patient care last year, the VA discovered that only 41 percent of new patients are seen within two weeks, including only 66 percent of mental health patients, according to USA Today. An older, less reliable method of tracking that data estimated in 2011 and 2012 that the VA hit its goal more than 90 percent.
Debra Draper, an investigator with the Government Accountability Office, said the VA’s inability to track wait times isn’t new — and it isn’t likely to improve if staffers lie about the data.
“Data has to be reliable to be useful,” she told USA Today. “So if you’ve people going in there and doing all kinds of things (to change the data), it really is not reliable.”
Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Veterans Oversight and Investigations, said hearings will be conducted on the allegations of soldier deaths in Phoenix.
He also called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. In an editorial Wednesday, the Denver Post agreed with Coffman.
“There is no doubt that managing the VA is a very challenging task, but if these allegations are true, it’s also clear that the administration will need to move quickly to find someone who is up to the job,” the Post wrote.
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