Report: VA officials learned of patient data tampering in 2012

A 2012 audit conducted by the Veterans Affairs medical network in the Southwest U.S. showed that agency officials knew that employees were manipulating patient wait times.

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The survey found that sites in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas habitually broke VA policy and falsified data using a variety of schemes despite a national directive to stop such practices.

The audit, obtained by The Arizona Republic, notes that former VA Undersecretary Robert Petzel, who resigned in May, held a conference call in 2011 with department executives and told them “not to ‘game’ the system.”

In April, revelations over alleged patient mistreatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix began what has become a steady drumbeat of damaging revelations for the VA.

An interim report from the VA’ inspector general found that veterans at the facility had been made to wait an average of 115 days to see a doctor, while official data claimed wait times averaged 24 days. Some veterans are alleged to have died while waiting to receive care.

That report, coupled with the massive fraud uncovered by a White House-backed audit of the department’s national healthcare system, forced Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on May 30.

Last week, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson directed all VA medical centers and healthcare directors to perform monthly, in-person site inspections and review scheduling practices at all the facilities in the jurisdiction.

“Our top priority is getting veterans off of wait lists and into clinics,” Gibson said.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) told the newspaper that the new revelations in Arizona are “continued proof of how VA leaders looked the other way while bureaucrats lied, cheated and put the heath of veterans they were supposed to be serving at risk.”

The latest setback for the department comes as Miller and 27 other House and Senate lawmakers on Tuesday are set to begin hammering out legislation that would attempt to fix the VA healthcare system.

Lawmakers hope to report out a final draft of the bill before July 4.

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