A new federal report has revealed Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center workers were told to falsify records, a finding that should lead to the firing of managers responsible for the deception, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said Wednesday.
The Veterans Health Administration reported that 30 percent of the Roseburg VA employees surveyed said they had been instructed to falsify the date a veteran asked for an appointment to see a doctor.
The report was released to a House committee one day before the House passed legislation allowing for the immediate firing of VA administrators held accountable for falsifying records. DeFazio said he received a copy Wednesday.
“It is an odd coincidence we get this ... report, and we pass legislation on the same day. It’s very appropriate. For once, Congress got something right,” DeFazio said.
“I think if you fire a number of responsible senior, so-called career employees, who abused their office, it will send a very strong message throughout the agency that this isn’t going to be tolerated any more. This is the beginning of change,” he said.
DeFazio said he will insist the new authority be used to remove any senior staff members at the Roseburg VA responsible for what he called the “abuse of our veterans” and “the abuse of some of the staff.”
The Roseburg VA and veterans hospitals and clinics around the nation have come under fire for hiding how long veterans wait to see a doctor.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as VA secretary. He replaces Eric Shinseki, who stepped down in May after reports of widespread mismanagement surfaced.
Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain issued a written response this morning denying employees had been asked to manipulate data.
“No employee at the VA Roseburg (Health Care System) has been instructed to falsify wait times. However, the national and local reviews have revealed that there was confusion over the definition of a veteran’s ‘desired date’ for an appointment. Schedulers have since been provided further training to ensure accurate input of the desired date,” the statement said.
The question 30 percent answered “yes” to was this: “Do you feel you receive instruction from the facility to enter a desired date other than the date a Veteran asks to be seen?”
Bogedain said neither she nor other administrators plans to step down.
“Leadership continues to work diligently to ensure the best possible care for veterans in a timely manner,” she said.
Chief of Staff Chip Taylor announced earlier this month he will resign today and join the Architrave Family of Companies as medical director for the Umpqua Regional Medical Center.
Douglas County Veterans Forum spokesman Jim Little said he was sad to hear that waiting times had been ordered falsified in Roseburg and reiterated a call for an independent investigation.
“The audit is good, but I still think they need to be absolutely sure there’s an independent review,” Little said. “The VA seems to be denying the fact that there’s a leadership problem.”
VA auditors visited hundreds of hospitals and clinics around the country in May to interview VA employees. They issued a preliminary report in June saying 57,000 veterans, including 6,600 in Oregon, had been waiting for up to three months for appointments.
The audit contradicted claims by the Roseburg VA that nearly all patients saw a primary care doctor within two weeks of requesting an appointment.
The new information this week also contradicts claims by the Roseburg VA that the waiting lists were accurate, even if average waiting times were longer than two weeks.
A statement from the Veterans Integrated Service Network 20, the regional office that oversees the Roseburg VA, said “At the time the audits were conducted, each facility, along with the VISN office, received verbal exit briefings which indicated no significant concerns...We take this additional information with the utmost seriousness, and are committed to improving practices and providing additional training and support to our schedulers.”
Bogedain said antiquated software was part of the problem.
“It is our hope that a new scheduling software package will be developed. In the interim, I have met with schedulers throughout the entire VA Roseburg Health Care System to better understand scheduling challenges and address them. All schedulers have been provided additional training. We are also awaiting further instructions from VA Central Office,” she said.
In addition to provisions for firing managers, the House bill allocates $10 billion to reduce waiting times by paying for treatment veterans receive outside the VA system.
The legislation also provides recruiting incentives to help the VA fill doctor shortages that have contributed to long waiting times. The incentives include $120,000 to repay student loans if a new doctor stays with the VA for at least five years.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Little said the legislation could help change the system.
“Firings have not been in the mix before. Maybe people are starting to think this isn’t the safe, secure bureaucracy they thought it would be,” he said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.