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Editorial: Roseburg VA needs independent probe to restore credibility

By now the credibility of the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is so shot only an independent investigation can repair it.

Up until Monday, the Roseburg VA distanced itself from the proposition that veterans must wait an unhealthy, literally, number of days to see a doctor.

The Roseburg VA had assured everyone of two things (facts): It promptly schedules appointments in nearly all cases and that it doesn’t falsify records.

The nationwide audit of VA hospitals released Monday exposed the first thing as not true and called into question the truthfulness of the second thing.

Roseburg VA officials can crunch and spin the numbers all they want, but the audit found this: If you’re new to the VA and call the Roseburg hospital to see a primary care doctor, you wait an average of 51 days for an appointment.

Maybe even more alarming, a veteran new to the VA health care system must wait an average of 47 days for a mental health appointment.

The waiting times are much shorter for established patients. That, apparently, allowed the Roseburg VA to rationalize asserting that the auditors found it does a nearly perfect job getting vets into see docs within 14 days.

Normally, the Roseburg VA would have stuck with its cagey claim, with some believing it and some disbelieving it. This time, though, the VA’s national leaders were under too much pressure for stonewalling. The Roseburg VA looks bad here because the tried and true trick of circling the wagons didn’t work.

The revelation that veterans must wait unconscionably long to see a VA doctor in Roseburg, as well as Portland and White City, contradicted what VA officials had been saying. U.S. Sen. Merkley, D-Oregon, had been misled and sounded like he’d been burned. The audit exposed waiting times “far worse than what local leadership has told us,” the senator said in a statement.

The audit “raises substantial questions about whether we can believe anything we hear about what is happening in these facilities and demands explanation,” Merkley said

Faced with such a demand, the Roseburg VA changed tactics Tuesday. The new line is: The waiting times are not good, but don’t blame us, blame understaffing.

The Roseburg VA couldn’t adopt this line sooner because top managers, eligible for bonuses, are loathe to admit imperfection in their organizations. Everything is excellent, until it isn’t.

Everything isn’t excellent at the Roseburg VA and more revelations may be ahead.

The Roseburg VA, like other VA hospitals that fared poorly in the initial audits, faces further review, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This may answer the question: Does the Roseburg VA falsify records?

No matter the answer, a VA investigation of itself invites skepticism. The only hope for restoring credibility is involving another agency, such as the U.S. Office of Special Counsel or FBI. Heads may roll, but the institution, for the sake of veterans, needs to bounce back.

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The News-Review Updated Jun 11, 2014 11:21AM Published Jun 11, 2014 10:04AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.