Audit finds tampering with VA schedules

An internal Veterans Affairs audit handed to President Obama on Friday found widespread tampering with appointments scheduled by veterans seeking care.

Sixty-four percent of VA facilities tampered with the desired appointment date of veterans, concluded the report, “signaling a systemic lack of integrity within some Veteran Health Administration facilities.”

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The report said it was not clear whether the tampering was done for “mal-intent” or a lack of understanding.

Obama accepted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation shortly after Shinseki presented the findings to Obama.

The VA controversy centers on allegations that VA facilities doctored waiting times to cover up long waits by veterans, some of which might have contributed to deaths.

The new audit said its findings suggested that pressure was placed on those scheduling VA appointments to make waiting times for care appear shorter.

“Information indicates that in some cases, pressure was placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable,” it stated.

The initial phase of the audit from May 12-May 16 examined 138 VA medical sites that routinely serve about 10,000 veterans. It found many questionable scheduling practices, the five-page audit summary states.

Auditors found that 13 percent of scheduling staff said they had been told to enter a “desired date” for a doctor’s appointment into the wait list system that was different from what the patient had requested.

Eight percent of staff responsible for scheduling patient treatment was not using the electronic wait list system mandated by the VA. The report said these staff members might have been using alternatives that would not be traceable by the VA.

The audit also said the 14-day wait time performance target instituted by Shinseki was “simply not attainable.”

“Given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services,” the summary states. “Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining required resources and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure.”

The audit found that “misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities but many across the country,” Obama said. “That’s totally unacceptable.”

The Veterans Affairs Department is now conducting an audit of the remaining facilities.