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Carisa Cegavske

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May 22, 2014
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Douglas County veterans leader urges Roseburg VA probe

Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center clerks should be called to testify under oath about whether the hospital has concealed how long patients wait for an appointment, the head of a veterans coalition said today.

“This is not to accuse them,” said Jim Little, president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum. “But it would be comforting.”

The issue exploded last month when a retired VA doctor accused the Phoenix VA of falsifying records to hide lengthy delays in treating veterans. The doctor alleged some 40 veterans died while on a secret waiting list.

The Roseburg VA says VA auditors this month confirmed that the medical center follows proper procedures, and veterans are able to see a primary care doctor within 14 days of requesting an appointment.

The VA’s self-inspection did nothing for the Roseburg VA’s credibility, said Little, who served in the Navy for 31 years and heads an umbrella organization of 18 veterans groups.

“The atmosphere of trust and confidence, in my opinion, has been absolutely busted,” he said. “There are problems here.”

Little said he doesn’t know of any veteran whose death can be directly linked with delays in getting care at the Roseburg VA.

But, he said, “I’m not confident there has not been.”

“I can’t pinpoint that the Roseburg VA is guilty, but they are guilty by association,” he said.

In a letter sent last week to Arizona Sen. John McCain, Little described specific ways the VA can mask long waits to see a doctor.

The methods include practices as simple as not recording a request for an appointment or falsifying the date the veteran asked for an appointment, according to Little.

Other ways include sending a patient to an emergency department for cursory care or listing the patient as being in an electronic waiting room.

Little said he learned about the practices from unnamed internal sources at the Roseburg VA.

“A lot of folks come to us and tell us various things,” he said.

Roseburg VA spokeswoman Carrie Boothe said the VA auditors scrutinized the hospital’s scheduling practices.

“The allegations regarding possible methods to manipulate wait time data, as alluded by Mr. Little in his letter, were carefully reviewed by the team that audited the VA Roseburg Healthcare System May 14-15. Their review conclusively identified that none of the alleged methods were being used at the VA Roseburg Healthcare System,” Boothe said in a statement.

“Every American citizen has a right to express their opinion,” she said. “It is unfortunate that some do not trust the integrity of the VA review.”

The veterans forum’s relationship with the Roseburg VA was already strained, primarily over the veterans’ insistence to restore an intensive-care unit at the Roseburg VA. VA officials are equally adamant that an ICU won’t return.

Little, who said he’s been waiting for six months for a colonoscopy and hasn’t “heard word one” about an appointment, said he wants an outside agency, such as the FBI, to investigate VA scheduling practices.

He said he wrote to McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, because of the Republican senator’s strong and high-profile reaction to allegations at the Phoenix VA.

“His reputation caused this story to be a little more visible to the public,” Little said. “I view this as a horrible, horrible black mark on America’s reputation.”

• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated May 22, 2014 12:53PM Published May 23, 2014 12:10PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.