Veterans Hospital Wait Times Investigated in Texas

The Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating scheduling practices at its hospitals in Texas as part of a nationwide audit of access to care.

A whistleblower at San Antonio's North Central Federal Clinic said he and other clerks were instructed to manipulate scheduling data so it appeared there were no wait times, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The clerk, Brian Turner, said employees at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic and the North Central Federal Clinic were told to ensure that wait times appeared as close to "zero days" as possible.

Turner said he had received whistleblower protection from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

"The goal is to get the true numbers of wait times so that hopefully these clinics get what they need," Turner said.

Catherine Gromek, a spokeswoman for the VA's Office of the Inspector General, said it is initially focusing on San Antonio, where the agency has received allegations from different sources.

VA officials in San Antonio, however, said in a statement Thursday that Turner's claims were investigated and could not be substantiated.

Turner's allegations mirror data manipulation claims made in New Hampshire and Colorado.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Thursday a "face-to-face audit" of every clinic and hospital in the nation.

Shinseki said he would continue to lead the federal agency despite calls for his resignation by the American Legion and some in Congress following reports that patients died because of delayed treatment at a hospital in Phoenix and of a secret list the hospital kept of patients waiting for appointments to hide the delays.

Turner's allegations about the VA hospitals in Texas do not include mention of secret wait lists.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has long had a backlog and exceedingly long delays for treatment.

Numbering more than 600,000 when it hit its high point in March 2013, the backlog in VA cases had been cut in half to 308,000 by early May, the VA said. The department deems cases to be part of the backlog once they've gone 125 days without being processed. The VA said it completed more than 500,000 of its oldest claims last year.

At the same time, the VA has acknowledged that 23 patients have died as a result of delayed care in recent years.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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