“I knew about all of this all along,” Foote told The Associated Press. “The only thing I can say is you can’t celebrate the fact that vets were being denied care.”
Still, Foote said it is good that the VA finally appears to be addressing long-standing problems.
“Everybody has been gaming the system for a long time,” he said. “Phoenix just took it to another level. … The magnitude of the problem nationwide is just so huge, so it’s hard for most people to get a grasp on it.”
Shinseki called the Inspector General’s findings “reprehensible to me, to this department and to veterans.” He said he was directing the Phoenix VA to immediately address each of the 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments. The hospital system’s director has already been placed on leave amid the probe.
Reports that VA employees have been “cooking the books” have exploded since Foote went public with allegations that management at the VA in Phoenix had instructed staff to keep a secret waiting list to hide delayed care and that as many as 40 patients may have died while waiting for appointments.
Griffin said he’s found no evidence so far that any of those deaths were caused by delays.
Lawmakers say the agency’s 14-day target for seeing patients seeking appointments is unrealistic, while the Inspector General’s report found it encourages employees to “game” the appointment system in order to collect performance bonuses.
The report described a process in which schedulers assigned appointments based on the next available slot, but marked it down as the patient’s desired date.
“This results in a false 0-day wait time,” the report said.
Thomas Lynch, of the Veterans Health Administration, an arm of the VA, said VA health care quality compares favorably with that in the private sector while also explaining that a bonus system based on meeting the 14-day goal had a negative effect.
“Our performance measures have become our goals, not tools to help us understand where we needed to invest resources,” he told the House Veterans Affairs Committee late Wednesday. “We undermined the integrity of our data when we elevated our performance measures to goals.”
Griffin said investigators’ next steps include determining whether names of veterans awaiting care were purposely omitted from electronic waiting lists and at whose direction and whether any deaths were related to delays in care.
Investigators at some of the 42 facilities “have identified instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times,” he said.
Griffin said investigators are making surprise visits, a step that could reduce “the risk of destruction of evidence, manipulation of data, and coaching staff on how to respond to our interview questions.”
U.S. Justice Department officials have already been brought into cases where there is evidence of a criminal or civil violation, Griffin said.
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(Photo Source: AP)