VA audit finds ‘systemic lack of integrity’
By: Jeremy Herb
May 30, 2014 02:05 PM EDT
Appointments’ wait times were manipulated at more than 60 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities investigated as part of a new internal audit.
The White House-ordered audit found that schedulers faced pressure to manipulate the system and concluded there was a “systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities.”
The audit, issued as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, found that 64 percent of the 216 VA facilities reviewed had at least one instance where a veterans’ desired appointment date had been changed. The review found 13 percent of schedulers had received specific instructions to misrepresent wait times.
“Information indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable,” the audit said.
The review also found that 7 percent to 8 percent of scheduling staff said they used alternatives to the VA’s electronic wait list, a practice that occurred in 62 percent of the facilities examined.
The VA’s internal audit follows the VA inspector general’s interim report released on Wednesday, which found “that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide.”
The IG report spurred a flurry of calls for Shinseki’s resignation from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and Shinseki stepped down Friday.
President Barack Obama said Friday that Shinseki and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors shared with him the audit’s findings before Shinseki offered his resignation.
“What they’ve found is that the misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities, but many across the country,” Obama said. “That’s totally unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the best. They’ve earned it. Last week, I said that if we found misconduct, it would be punished. And I meant it.”
The audit also found that the 14-day goal for setting up new appointments, put into place under Shinseki and used in part to determine bonuses for VA employees, was “simply not attainable.”
“Given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services, imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining required resources and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure,” the audit said.
The VA’s initial review examined 216 VA sites; the agency now plans to expand the audit to all VA facilities. That larger review is scheduled to be completed early next month.