VA audit: Many employees manipulated data under supervisors' orders

An audit released this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system uncovered even more cases of fraud, data manipulation and staff intimidation to cover up extreme delays in care.

Thirteen percent of scheduling staff said their supervisors instructed them to change patients' desired appointment date and 8 percent said they used alternatives to the electronic waitlist. "This behavior runs counter to VA's core values; the overarching environment and culture which allowed this state of practice to take root must be confronted head-on if VA is to evolve to be more capable of adjusting systems, leadership and resources to meet the needs of veterans and families," according to the audit.

There were also barriers to timely access, including a lack of providers, as well as the unrealistic 14-day appointment goal, along with limited clerical staff, the audit found. In Phoenix, where the scandal first broke, less than half of the VA appointment clerks correctly used an electronic waiting list for patient visits, while hospitals in Ohio saw incidents of data manipulation.

The VA disciplined six employees at facilities in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Fort Collins, Colorado, USA Today reported. The proposed actions include two terminations, two suspensions, a demotion and an admonishment.

The report was released just before the Senate confirmed Robert McDonald, President Barack Obama's VA secretary nominee, according to the article. "As these new details make painfully obvious ... some VA executives are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, according to USA Today.

An internal audit in June revealed more than 57,000 vets were still waiting for care 90 days after requesting an appointment, FierceHealthcare previously reported, prompting the government to allow veterans to bypass VA medical care for private care.

To learn more:
- here's the audit (.pdf)
- read the USA today article