The Department of Veterans Affairs has another nasty scandal on its hands. Yesterday, a bipartisan group in Congress and the Senate blasted the VA’s Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) for not releasing any information about the internal investigations it conducted into fraudulent behavior by VA employees at 51 VA facilities across the country.
Two years ago there was a nationwide scandal over how VA employees of the Phoenix VA Medical Center (VAMC) were using secret waiting lists and falsifying medical appointment records to hide the fact that veterans had to wait months before they could get an appointment for the health care at the Phoenix facility. That wait-time scandal raised hell across the country and eventually led to the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
In June 2014, shortly after Shinseki resigned because of the scandal, high ranking officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs asked the VA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate 111 VA medical facilities across the country because an audit conducted by the VA, had turned up irregularities that indicated potential falsified medical appointment records and scheduling manipulation at those facilities. The 111 VA facilities range from small, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) to health care systems (HCS) and large VA medical centers (VAMC) in thirty two different States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated 73 of those VA facilities, and found scheduling problems similar to the Phoenix VA‘s problems at 51 of those VA facilities. It seems that it was a common practice nationwide for VA employees to manipulate the VA’s computer system to hide the fact that veterans at those VA hospitals had to inordinate amounts of time for an appointment.
You would think that the VA would do everything in its power to prevent another similar scandal. But that is not how the VA operates. Two years have passed since the VA-OIG discovered the deceptive scheduling practices, and the VA-OIG still has not released the results of those 51 investigations to Congress or to the public, even though the VA has already told Congress that all of the reports were completed by December 9, 2015.
On Thursday, USA Today reported that once again the VA has refused to release the results of its 51 investigations concerning falsified medical appointment records and scheduling manipulation by VA employees. A spokesperson for the VA’s Acting Inspector General Linda Halliday told members of the Senate and House Veteran’s Affairs Committees, that the VA-OIG is scrubbing the reports to remove any personal information that might be in them.
The VA-OIG is dragging its heels on releasing the reports on these 51 investigations despite a law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December that requires the VA Inspector General to release investigative reports within three days of completion. But the VA-OIG has a long history of protecting VA Employees rather than identifying and solving problems caused by incompetent VA employees.
The spokesperson for the VA’s Acting Inspector General Linda Halliday told USA Today that the reports on the 51 wait-time investigations have not been released because they, “Do not make a recommendation or suggest a corrective action.”
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D, Wisconsin), who authored the legislation in the Senate, says thae VA-OIG’s response is “unacceptable”. Representative Jeff Miller (R, Florida), chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, said that when the VA-OIG get a report it should release it without delay. “VA challenges will only fester if they are kept shrouded in secrecy.”
Senator Ron Johnson (R, Wisconsin) is investigating why the VA never released the VA-OIG report on a why a 35 year old veteran died from a dangerous mix of drugs prescribed by doctors at a VA hospital in Wisconsin. Senator Johnson said that it was “shocking” that the VA would withhold reports again. ““Obviously, Inspector General Halliday is not doing what needed to be done in terms of an inspector general that is transparent.”