Just when you think that the news couldn’t get any worse for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the news gets worse for the VA. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the results of its investigation of patient wait times at the VA.
The GAO investigation found that the VA has failed to correct the problems that led to the wait time scandal in 2014. In fact, the GAO found that the wait time scandal is happening in VA hospitals across the country.
Two years ago CNN broke the story that at least 40 U.S. veterans had died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and 1,400 to 1,600 veterans had been forced to wait months to see a doctor. On Monday the GAO broke the news that the wait-time scandal didn’t only happen in Phoenix. The VA’s wait-time scandal is happening at VA hospitals nationwide.
According to the GAO, employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly falsified the wait times of veterans who made appointments to see a VA doctor. The results of the GAO investigation, VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Improve Newly Enrolled Veterans’ Access to Primary Care, were released to the VA on March 18, but weren’t released to the public until Monday.
The GAO investigation tracked how long 180 newly enrolled veterans had to wait to get an appointment for primary health care at VA hospitals across the country. The GAO found that not all of the newly enrolled veterans were able to access primary care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and that other veterans experienced a wide variation in the amount of time they had to wait for health care. According to the GAO report, 60 of the 180 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review were never seen by a VA health care provider at all, during the entire time of the GAO investigation.
Nearly half of these veterans were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with VHA policy. The 120 newly enrolled veterans who were seen by VA health care providers had to wait anywhere from 22 days to 71 days from the time that they requested an appointments until when they were finally seen by a health care professional at the VA. According to GAO’s analysis, the long wait times were caused by limited appointment availability and weaknesses in medical center scheduling practices, both of which contributed to what the GAO called “unnecessary delays” in getting an appointment.
The GAO published 71 reports, documenting the manipulation of wait-times at VA facilities across 19 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
These reports reveal that in at least seven facilities the appointment dates were falsified because of orders from supervisors.
The 71 reports are available for viewing on the VA’s website. The VA anticipates that the GAO will release at least another half dozen reports. The VA is also completing 30 site-specific investigations, and it will release those reports in the coming months, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The 71 reports finally identify VA hospitals and clinics where appointment data was manipulated. In particular, the GAO inspectors concluded that appointment dates were manipulated in accordance with supervisor instructions in facilities in seven states, including Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont.
According to A USA Today story published on Monday:
“Supervisors instructed schedulers to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in New York and at least six other states, according to newly released investigation reports from the department’ inspector general.
Two incidents were found at the Rochester (NY) outpatient clinic. According to the results of VA investigations:
Multiple schedulers were using the first available date as the desired date, which showed no wait time in the system. Supervisors had told them to do it that way, and a manager for the supervisors told investigators she should have been more specific and thorough in training them on the correct policy. No malicious intent found.
A scheduler lied to investigators about contacting veterans and he changed desired dates to actual appointment dates for nine veterans because of “misunderstanding” a supervisor’s instructions, investigators concluded.”
The GAO Report also criticized the VA because only four people lost their jobs in the wake of the wait-time scandal.
Unfortunately, the results of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation won’t surprise any veteran who has ever tried to get health care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The VHA is as walking, talking disaster, and veterans know it from first-hand experience.