VA bosses in 7 states manipulated vets' wait times for care
Date: April 07, 2016
Topic: All Veterans Issues
I no longer use the VA Hospital except for dental. I pay for Medicare and Blue Cross Insurance. I want to stay as healthy as I can. I quit all the VA prescriptions some time ago. I got better after that. I am 100% service connected disabled since 1991. The VA will not get a chance to destroy me health.
Click on the link below to see why some people in the VA Health system should go to prison and not get a big retirement for endangering our Veterans lives.
Danny "Greasy" Belcher
Task Force Omega of KY Inc, Executive Director
D Troop,7th Sqdn,1St Air Cav.
Infantry Sgt. 68-69
Donovan Slack, USA TODAY 2:59 p.m. EDT April 7, 2016
WASHINGTON — Supervisors instructed schedulers to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs' medical facilities in at least seven states, according to newly released investigation reports from the department’s inspector general.
The manipulation gave the false impression that the facilities in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont were meeting VA performance measures for shorter wait times.
The reports detail for the first time since the Phoenix VA wait-time scandal in 2014 how widespread scheduling manipulation was throughout the VA. Investigators previously have said manipulation was “systemic” but they did not identify which facilities had problems and how serious they were.
The investigations found that employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times, which masked growing demand as new waves of veterans returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as Vietnam veterans aged and needed more health care.
In some cases, the system encouraged manipulation even without explicit instruction from supervisors. A manager in West Palm Beach, Fla., sent out laudatory emails touting the shorter wait times the system showed. Schedulers in Harlingen, Texas, reported being berated by supervisors when they booked appointments showing longer wait times for veterans. (It was “not pretty,” one employee said.)
In some cases — in Gainesville, Fla., White River Junction, Vt., and Philadelphia, for example — they found VA employees improperly kept lists of veterans needing care outside the scheduling system, a violation that also hid actual wait times.
The inspector general launched investigations of more than 100 facilities after the Phoenix scandal in 2014. In some cases, they found manipulation had been going on for as long as a decade. In others, it had been just a few years. Roughly half of the 70 newly released reports are from investigations that were completed more than a year ago. They were released following a Freedom of Information Act request from USA TODAY.
The VA says it already initiated discipline against 29 people — three of whom left the agency — because of the findings. The agency says it also has retrained thousands of schedulers and is updating software to make it easier for them to book appointments properly. A pilot program at 10 facilities now allows veterans to book their own appointments, and the VA expects to roll that out nationwide, according to David Shulkin, a physician who took over as undersecretary for health at the VA in June.
Shulkin told USA TODAY he also initiated two massive, same-day efforts to try to provide care sooner for more than 100,000 veterans, and he said the agency also has increased capacity to get wait times down.
“We’ve expanded appointments, we have added evening hours and weekend hours, we’ve added 3 million square feet of space, we’ve hired 14,000 new providers,” he said.
But VA whistle-blowers say schedulers still are manipulating wait times. Shea Wilkes, co-director of a group of more than 40 whistle-blowers from VA medical facilities in more than a dozen states, said the group continues to hear about it from employees across the country who are scared to come forward.
“Until the VA decides it truly wants to change its corrupt and poor culture, those who work on the front lines and possess the true knowledge relating to the VA's continued data manipulation will remain quiet and in hiding because of fear of workplace harassment and retaliation,” said Wilkes, a social worker at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La.
This is not the first time the VA has said it would fix problems with scheduling. When the inspector general found in 2005 that VA schedulers were improperly booking appointments — and wait lists were therefore underestimated by as many as 10,000 veterans — the agency initiated a “national education plan” to retrain schedulers and supervisors. In 2010, VA officials discovered schedulers were using “gaming strategies” to falsify wait times to meet agency performance targets, and they required all schedulers to undergo new training, once again.
In the newly released reports, investigators found schedulers were using the same strategies. Most commonly, schedulers would start the wait clock on the day of the appointment they were booking rather than when the veteran wanted to be seen. The system then showed there was no wait time even if the veteran had to wait weeks or months for an appointment.
As recently as October, the Government Accountability Office said the VA’s wait-time system still is prone to scheduler error and produces unreliable data.
Shulkin said that in addition to the actions the agency has already taken, he is planning to overhaul entirely the way the VA measures wait times and ensures veterans get care when they need it.
“I have found reports in the bottoms of drawers from 15 years ago that suggested that access issues existed in the VA and that we needed to address these systems systemically rather than piecemeal,” he said. “It’s not a matter of just retraining people to be able to accurately record wait-time data, this is a matter of actually redesigning and relaunching your whole approach to how you care for veterans.”
David Shulkin, undersecretary of health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, explains the potential benefits of giving veterans access to certain private health care services.
On Friday, he plans to launch a new “declaration of access” laying out goals to reach by the end of the year, including that veterans will be able to get same-day primary care and mental health care within a similarly ambitious time frame.
He said the agency is moving toward measuring wait times by veteran satisfaction. The VA currently asks veterans at computer kiosks when they check in for appointments whether they are satisfied that they got the appointments when they wanted them. The VA also is working on a new way to measure wait times in the scheduling system.
None of that data is publicly available yet, but Shulkin said he plans to publish it on the VA’s website in coming months. Right now, he said 89% of veterans say they are satisfied and he uses the data to guide management.
“It’s how I know we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
More than 480,000 veterans were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment as of March 15, public VA data shows.