VA disputes claims agency destroyed appointment backlog records to boost numbers

At a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing, the VA's top health official contradicted claims that the agency eliminated thousands of medical appointment records to clear up its backlog.

In a story from The Daily Caller, Oliver Mitchell, a former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center, alleges that the facility intentionally deleted backlogged exam requests, which automatically erased any record that the requests were ever made.

"The committee was called System Redesign and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to correct the department's efficiency. And one of the issues at the time was the backlog," the story quotes Mitchell as saying. "… It's a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospital's efficiency."

By 2008, veterans were waiting six to nine months for an exam, Mitchell said.

The article includes audio purportedly from a November 2008 meeting off VA officials discussing deleting orders.

Mitchell filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General, which referred the matter back to facility, according to the article. Mitchell was transferred out of his department and eventually lost his job.

In response, the VA maintains that no records were destroyed. Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel told lawmakers that about 300 cases were closed--but not deleted--after a thorough administrative review of each one, according to Military Times. He also denied the closed cases had anything to do with gaming the facility's efficiency numbers.

The cases were at least a year old and generally involved old imaging requests in which the patient didn't return for the appointment, the VA said.

"No one who needed care was denied care," Petzel told lawmakers. "This was a carefully thought out review. There was no attempt to eliminate records."

A report issued last month called an interoperable electronic health record system between the VA and Department of Defense vital to eliminating the backlog of pending disability claims.

The backlog stood at 611,000 claims last March but since reportedly has stalled at 400,000.

A report last week from the Government Accountability Office, however, said the two agencies have "lost valuable time" since ditching plans for a joint EHR system a year ago and made little progress toward streamlining care processes for veterans.

To learn more:
- find the Daily Caller story
- read the VA response
- here's the Military Times article