Zero Texas employees were disciplined by the Department of Veterans Affairs despite an internal investigation that found systemic manipulation of patient wait time data in Central Texas, according to the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General released a much anticipated report this week concerning allegations of data manipulation that found scheduling clerks in Austin, San Antonio and Kerrville regularly engaged in the practice of “zeroing out” patient appointment requests, which resulted in undercounts of true wait times for care.
False Wait Times in VA Scheduling System
In 2014, the VA came under fire nationally for falsifying records and concealing lengthy wait times in an effort to meet stated goals of seeing patients within 14 days.
Several employees said they feared discipline action or retaliation if they didn’t input false data. Two schedulers, in Kerrville and San Antonio, told investigators they worried they would lose their jobs if they didn’t enter false wait times in the VA scheduling system.
Supervisors denied they instructed clerks to engage in data manipulation, blaming the practice on misunderstanding of VA scheduling rules.
According to the VA, 29 employees nationwide have been disciplined in the data manipulation scandal that erupted in 2014 and eventually cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. The scandal began after allegations that numerous VA patients in Phoenix died while languishing on secret wait lists meant to hide the existence of delays for care.
Zero Texas Employees Disciplined
In May 2014, a San Antonio scheduling clerk, who previously worked at the Austin Outpatient Clinic, publicly accused VA officials of submitting false appointment data in Texas, adding that schedulers were also directed not to use an electronic wait list, which could potentially disclose the existence of particularly lengthy wait times. The inspector general’s report didn’t substantiate that allegation.
Several other allegations were dismissed in reports released this week, including a claim that the chief of imaging services for the Central Texas VA manipulated appointment times for radiological studies. The Central Texas VA system includes the Austin Outpatient Clinic where investigators found that “almost all schedulers and clinics had zero wait times. For the wait time to equal zero, the desired date had to be the same date as the appointment date.”