Whistleblower: Texas VA Hospital Was Run Like 'Crime Syndicate'

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 02:13 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The Veterans Affairs scandal has spread to a hospital in Texas after a whistleblower alleged far-reaching fraud by senior officials at the facility and compared it to "an organized crime syndicate."

Emails and memos obtained by The Daily Beast allegedly show that high-level VA hospital employees had conspired to cook the books for years to cover up the extensive delays for veterans waiting for medical care.

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The results showed that if the wait times endangering the lives of veterans had been exposed, it would have jeopardized the executives’ bonus pay at the hospital, according to the report.

The documents indicate that the "widespread wrongdoing" went unpunished and uncorrected for years, even after false wait times were repeatedly reported to local and national VA officials.

"For lack of a better term, you’ve got an organized crime syndicate," the whistleblower, who works in the Texas VA, told the Daily Beast. "People up on top are suddenly afraid they may actually be prosecuted, and they’re pressuring the little guys down below to cover it all up. I see it in the executives’ eyes. They are worried."

The VA scandal erupted in Phoenix last month when it was revealed that 40 patients had died while their names were on falsified lists that showed they had been waiting to see a physician for a much shorter amount of time than they really were.

Now more than two dozen VA hospitals, including those in Wyoming, Chicago, and Albuquerque, are being investigated for manipulated wait lists. The outrage has led to calls from Republicans and Democrats alike for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, or to be fired by President Barack Obama.

The Daily Beast says that the award-winning hospital in Texas was investigated for altered wait times after receiving "multiple complaints" about the facility, but the corruption continued for years.

Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he expected to hear of more revelations similar to the Texas case across the country in the near future.

"This newest case just further illustrates that the scandal is much more far reaching than most people realize," Rieckhoff told the Daily Beast. "Phoenix was just the tip of the iceberg. Scandal has become the new normal, it’s the status quo at the VA right now."

According to the whistleblower, VA hospital officials in Texas were under immense pressure to report positive wait times for veterans, even if the times were completely manipulated.

"If VA directors report low numbers, they’re the outlier," the person said. "They won’t stay a director very long, and they certainly won’t get promoted. No one is getting rewarded for honesty.

"They pretty much have to lie. If they don’t, they won’t go anywhere," the whistleblower added, noting that wait times "count for 50 percent of the executive career field bonus, which is a pretty powerful motivator."

Although the Daily Beast did not specifically name the hospital at the center of its report, it noted that the documents it obtained appeared to support claims that a leading doctor at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center in Temple, Texas, violated VA policy by personally manipulating veterans’ appointments while also ordering VA employees across central Texas to take part in the same corrupt wrongdoing.

The whistleblower, who has worked with the Texas VA for a decade, asked to remain anonymous because of fears that he or she will be fired or punished for revealing the truth.

"It’s plain and simple common sense," the whistleblower said. "Every delay in a patient’s diagnosis is an injury. The more severe the veteran’s condition, the worse the injury caused by the wait as the disease is allowed to progress."

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