[guest post by Dana]
A much anticipated VA Office of Inspector General interim report was released yesterday. It is so damning that it seems highly likely that before the weekend is over, Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki will have stepped down from his position to spend more time with his family. However, there are those arguing that his stepping down would be more for show and not solve the problem, even suggesting resignation would simply be a convenient distraction to mollify an angry public and possibly sidetrack a criminal investigation.
Also, with the release of the report, Sen. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called on Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a criminal investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is so damning that even the Democrat leadership is calling for an investigation. (One assumes Nancy Pelosi has now discovered what the actual definition of “scandal” is). Less than two weeks ago, Holder was at a wait-and-see point.
“Well, obviously these reports if they’re true are unacceptable, and the allegations are being taken very seriously by the administration. But I don’t have any announcements at this time with regard to anything that the Justice Department is doing,” Holder told reporters at a press conference.
“This is something on our radar screen at this point, but there is an investigation being done by the [VA] inspector general, and we’ll see what happens as a result of that inquiry and other information that comes to light in some form or fashion,” Holder added.
In light of the interim report, it is difficult to see how he could not open an investigation.
Here is a summary of the interim report.
The report focuses only on Phoenix, Ariz. area VA hospitals, but in Phoenix alone, about 1,700 veterans were waiting for a doctor’s appointment but were not on the electronic wait list for the VA. Simply put, these vets had gone to the VA and tried to schedule an appointment, but were not put into the scheduling system. The explanation is that some staff at the Phoenix VA would place vets in the system only when they would be placed into an open appointment. Thus, when they were scheduled, the Phoenix VA could claim that each of these vets, many of whom likely waited months, had a wait time of “zero days.”
Other staff would simply delete doctor visits they thought were unnecessary. Still others would simply change the “requested appointment date” without telling the patient.
All of this sleight-of-hand allowed the Phoenix VA to boast in 2013 that vets waited an average of 24 days for their first appointment, which would look normal. In reality, yesterday’s IG report shows that these vets waited an average of 115 days for an appointment—almost four months! Not only do such underhanded tactics hinder efforts to better manage the VA, they also risk veterans falling through the cracks. Imagine being sick, calling the VA to schedule an appointment and being told “we will call you back when we have an appointment available” – and then they never call back.