VA Problems Extend Beyond Long Wait Times, Committee Told

Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 06:44 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The House Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony that the troubles of the VA medical system go beyond long waits or staff shortages and are traceable to fundamental problems of institutional culture, Roll Call reported.

More money or a single piece of legislation alone will not solve the problems plaguing the VA bureaucracy, the House panel was told.

An internal VA audit exposed how 57,000 veterans had to wait 90 days or more for their first medical appointment. To disguise the wait times, the VA engaged in a systematic misrepresentation.

Further complicating wait times, the VA arbitrarily makes appointments by "blind scheduling" without any input from patients. This has contributed to a 43 percent cancellation or no-show rate, the panel was told, according to Roll Call.

Though the VA spent $127 million to replace an antiquated appointment system, there is no evidence the money had yet done any good, Roll Call reported.

The chief of medical administration at the VA, Philip Matkovsky, said the organization was working beyond capacity and that some facilities operated dishonestly. "This is a breach of trust. It is irresponsible. It is indefensible, and it is unacceptable," he said, the Washington Examiner reported.

The panel was also told that sending veterans outside the system may not be the solution because it would make it hard to track their medical outcomes or determine if they are being better served, Roll Call reported.

Acting VA inspector general Richard Griffin said there needs to be consequences for irresponsible managers.

"It comes down to accountability of the senior leadership out at these facilities. Once someone loses his job or gets criminally charged for doing this, it will no longer be a game, and that will be the shot heard round the system," he said, the Examiner reported.

In the past nine years, the VA inspector general's office has issued 18 reports pointing out the harmful impact on patient health caused by lengthy wait times and manipulation of appointment data, the Examiner reported.

Legislation is being drafted that would provide top VA officials greater leeway in firing or penalizing incompetent employees. Other legislation would pump $500 million into the VA for more medical staff and clinics, according to the Examiner.

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