VA official: Two years to fix wait times, investigate employee data manipulation

The Department of Veterans Affairs can fix the long wait times for veterans within two years--the same amount of time it will take to complete investigations of employees who allegedly falsified data to cover up the issues, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson announced Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Gibson reiterated that whistleblowers wouldn't face retaliation, and he expected the government would discipline more employees suspected of manipulating patient wait time data, according to the article.

However, front-line employees and managers might not be the only ones who manipulated data. In a letter to newly appointed VA Secretary Bob McDonald, chairman of the House VA Committee Jeff Miller accused the VA itself of "an attempt to mislead Congress and the public" by manipulating the number of veterans who died as a result of delayed care. Miller claims the VA gave questionable information during a committee briefing in April, which reported 76 patients were harmed, 23 of whom died (it was actually 24), as a result of delays in gastrointestinal care since 1999, according to CNN.  

But in a July letter to the committee, the VA admit that it based the numbers only on an isolated 2010-2012 survey of some cases.

"This is further proof that VA's statistics--and certain department employees--simply cannot be trusted. If VA Secretary Robert McDonald can't offer a logical explanation for what happened, he needs to act quickly to hold those responsible for this misdirection accountable," Miller said in a statement to CNN.

As many as 1,000 veterans may have died in VA hospitals over the last 10 years as a result of misconduct a report from Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) office revealed, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama signed today the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, designed to improve VA hospitals with $16.3 billion in resources, according to USA Today. The bill also aims to make it easier to dismiss VA officials who perform poorly.

To learn more:
- here's the AP article
- check out CNN's coverage
- here's the USA Today article
- check out the Act signed today
- read the letter to McDonald (.pdf)
- here's the July letter (.pdf)