The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

VA Scandal Rages On In 2016

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


One of the most crippling scandals of the Obama administration is poised to outlast the president’s time in office.  The outrageous patient wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics nationwide have not waned since the issue burst into the public consciousness in 2014.  Indeed, the scandal has widened and the depth of the misconduct has continued unabated.

Hints of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement began to surface after the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published its investigation of Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina on September 6, 2013, where six deaths were tied to wait time delays.  The report found that even after wait times were identified and additional taxpayer assistance was provided in September 2011, the center still had 700 delays for appointments considered “critical” two years later.  CNN aired two investigative reports on November 19, 2013 and January 30, 2014, detailing absurdly long wait time issues at VA facilities from Georgia to Texas

A third CNN investigation aired on April 23, 2014, contained the bombshell revelation that, “at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.”  The secret list was part of the Phoenix VA’s attempt to conceal between 1,400 and 1,600 veterans who were forced to wait countless months to receive an appointment.  On the secret list, some wait times dragged on for more than a year.  The VA’s internal rules require appointments to be scheduled within 14-30 days. 

A May 28, 2014 OIG report cited 18 previous OIG investigations, concluding, “At both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulted in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care.”  A June 28, 2014 internal White House review found a “corrosive culture” at the VA damaged morale and contributed to “significant and chronic system failures.”  An internal VA audit released on June 9, 2014, revealed the staggering scope of the department’s failures.  Investigators found “57,436 newly enrolled veterans facing a minimum 90-day wait for medical care; 63,869 veterans who enrolled over the past decade requesting an appointment that never happened.”  The findings covered 731 VA facilities nationwide.

Despite the flurry of scathing verdicts, the VA has maintained a façade of improvement while fatal issues persist.  Internal documents from several OIG investigations were made public on April 7, 2016, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from USA TODAY.  They found that VA employees in 19 states and Puerto Rico routinely “zeroed out” wait times for veterans, concealing the true length of delays.  Worse yet, VA supervisors themselves instructed schedulers to fabricate wait times at medical facilities in seven states:  Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Vermont.  In one case, a VA employee was scolded for not manipulating wait times.

On the heels of that disastrous disclosure, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on April 18, 2016 which determined that despite the systematic and widespread nature of the corruption, the VA has taken a “piecemeal approach” to find remedies.  Not surprisingly, GAO concluded that, “Ongoing scheduling problems continue to affect the reliability of wait-time data.” 

Even as the data clearly points to the fact that the VA has failed to take wait times seriously, perhaps nothing more clearly illustrates the depth of the problem and the gross neglect of veterans than the May 23, 2016 comments from VA Secretary Robert McDonald.  During a breakfast with reporters, Sec. McDonald brushed off the focus on wait times: “When you got to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important? What's important is, what's your satisfaction with the experience?”  CAGW blasted Sec. McDonald’s comments:  “Sec. McDonald is clearly playing the role of Dumbo in his very own Fantasy Land.  Disney does, in fact, monitor how long its customers wait in line because they have the astonishingly simple belief that serving their customers quickly and efficiently is the best measure of overall performance.”

Perhaps Sec. McDonald’s lack of focus on wait times would help explain why data released by the VA on June 3, 2016 found that the number of patients who have waited more than a month to see a doctor exceeded a half a million since the beginning of 2016.  No improvement was seen in any month so far this year.  

As the VA continues to play fast and loose with reform, scandalous discoveries continue to sprout.  A June 21, 2016 OIG report found more than 200 manipulated wait times in Houston-area VA facilities and that, “Two former scheduling supervisors and a current director of two VA clinics instructed staff to incorrectly record cancellations as being canceled by the patient.”  An August 11, 2016 OIG report found that “VA patients in Iowa and South Dakota were assigned to primary care ‘ghost panels,’ or doctors who no longer worked at their hospitals.”  The report revealed yet another way VA officials hid the true length of wait times.

With each passing day, the VA proves how flippantly the department is taking the systemic, culture of corruption and deceit.  From 2010-2014, every single senior VA executive was rated “fully successful” and received a performance bonus.  Some of those same executives and senior VA officials not only allowed, but instructed subordinates to falsify wait times for veterans. 

America’s war-fighters deserve the best medical care when they return home.  It has been clear for years that the VA’s single-payer healthcare system has consistently failed veterans across the country.  Veterans and taxpayers deserve a reformed VA that uses a voucher system, which would allow veterans to choose the most efficient and effective care for them.

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