VA Inspector General Says Wait Lists Are a ‘Systemic Problem’

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki attends a meeting at a VA in Balitmore in 2010.

Rob Carr/AP

AA Font size + Print

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki attends a meeting at a VA in Balitmore in 2010.

The IG report confirms that 1,700 veterans waited at least 115 days for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix as the investigation widens to 46 facilities. By Sarah Mimms

A preliminary report Wednesday from the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general confirmed that at least 1,700 veterans were kept off of waiting lists at the Phoenix Health Care System, leading more lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down.

While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at [the Phoenix] medical facility,” acting Inspector General Robert Griffin wrote in the new report.

And the issues there are not unique. “We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide,” he wrote.

Using a sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix facilities, Griffin’s team found that veterans waited 115 days on average before receiving their first primary care appointment, far more than the 14 days recommended by the Veterans Affairs Department. Phoenix had reported its average wait was 24 days. Of those same veterans, 85 percent of them waited more than 14 days on average to receive care, while Phoenix officials reported that just 43 percent of veterans waited that long.

The Inspector General’s Office found that schedulers were pressured by their superiors to alter waiting times, which are factored into staff members’ bonuses and salary raises. In some cases, schedulers would change a veteran’s requested appointment date to the next date the facility had available, resulting in a zero-day wait time.

In addition to the waiting-list delays, Griffin said that his office received “numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers” at the Phoenix Health Care System.

In the wake of the report, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Miller, the top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services and House Veterans’ Affairs committees, both issued statements calling on Shinseki to resign. Shortly after, Sen. Mark Udall became the first Democrat in the Senate to join the call.

Several dozen members of Congress have already called for Shinseki’s resignation, though so far, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn are the only members of leadership to join them. President Obama has not asked for Shinseki to step down either, but left the door open during a speech last week. A senior administration official said that Shinseki’s continued tenure as head of the department remains up in the air, as the investigation continues.

Obama was briefed on the report Wednesday by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and found the report “extremely troubling,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “[Shinseki] has said that VA will fully and aggressively implement the recommendations of the IG. The President agrees with that action and reaffirms that the VA needs to do more to improve veterans’ access to care,” Carney said in a statement. “Our nation’s veterans have served our country with honor and courage and they deserve to know they will have the care and support they deserve.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether Obama supports Shinseki’s continued tenure as head of the department, even as the calls on the Hill grew louder.

The inspector general’s report did not include the results of the investigation into whether any of the waiting-list issues resulted in deaths, as has been reported by several media outlets. That will be included in the office’s final report which is due out in June.

In the interim, Griffin reported that his office has deployed “rapid response teams” that are visiting VA facilities without warning staff in order to investigate issues nationwide. So far, he wrote, they have visited or scheduled visits at 42 facilities across the country.

Griffin’s team also sent a series of recommendations to Shinseki, focusing in particular on getting the 1,700 veterans who have been waiting for care into a VA facility as quickly as possible.

This post was updated on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to include President Obama’s comments and additional calls for Shinseki’s resignation.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.