How Houston VA Clinics Manipulated Cancellations to Improve Optics

Cortney O'Brien
|
Posted: Jun 22, 2016 5:15 PM
How Houston VA Clinics Manipulated Cancellations to Improve Optics

A new report from the Office of Audits and Evaluations finds that former employees at the Houston-based Veterans Affairs clinics manipulated wait times and appointment cancellations as a way to save face. Documents reveal that employees improperly recorded clinic cancellations as patient cancellations and severely understated wait times.

We identified 223 appointments incorrectly recorded as patient cancellations during the July 2014 through June 2015 time frame. Of the 223 appointment cancellations, staff rescheduled 94 appointments (42 percent) beyond 30 days. For these 94 appointments, veterans encountered an average 81-day wait, which was 78 days longer than shown in the electronic scheduling system. We found that wait times were understated about 66 days for 50 appointments (22 percent) when they were initially scheduled.

Local VA officials insisted these misreported cancellations were the result of faulty software and that it wasn't “intentional” – claims the audit office pushed back on in its report, notes The Houston Chronicle.

"This is not just a scheduling software issue," the report noted. "The canceled appointments in question were not at the request of the veteran. The CBOC Director incorrectly, and contrary to VHA guidance, instructed her subordinates to use the option canceled by patient instead of canceled by clinic."

Oh - and the Houston VA employees also tried to argue their mistakes didn't put veterans in harm's way, so it wasn't so bad.

Cody McGregor, national outreach director at Concerned Veterans for America, sounded off on the latest egregious finding with the Veteran Affairs agency.

"These guys at the VA are manipulating the lives of people who've sacrificed everything for this country and are just trying to get the health care they deserve," he said.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald visited the Brookings Institution this week noting that the agency is taking a step in the right direction. The agency is “already being modernized” he said and “based on what veterans are telling us, we have already seen improvement.”

The news out of Houston challenges the secretary’s optimistic report.