The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not done enough to prevent schedulers from manipulating appointment wait times. VA wait-time data remains misleading and underestimates how long veterans wait for care, according to a nonpartisan watchdog report. So fixing the VA wait times is still a long way from done.
“Ongoing scheduling problems continue to affect the reliability of wait-time data,” the Government Accountability Office found.
The Piecemeal Approach to American Veterans Aid
The GAO said the VA has taken a “piecemeal approach” to addressing the problems since the wait-time scandal broke in 2014 in Phoenix, where schedulers falsified wait times and at least 40 veterans died awaiting care. But the agency needs to take comprehensive action, the GAO concluded in its audit, which stretched from January 2015 through last month.
Auditors found schedulers at three of the six medical centers they reviewed had improperly changed dates so the VA system falsely showed shorter or zero wait times. In a review of scheduling records for 60 individual veterans at those three centers, they found improper scheduling in 15 — or 25% — of the appointments.
While the system showed average wait times of between four and 28 days in the cases reviewed, the actual averages were between 11 and 48 days. The audit characterized the schedulers’ actions as mistakes rather than deliberate falsification.
“Until a comprehensive scheduling policy is finalized, disseminated, and consistently followed by schedulers, the likelihood for scheduling errors will persist,” the GAO said in its draft report.
The findings bolster recent claims by VA whistle-blowers that schedulers across the country are still falsifying wait times. And they cast doubt on the effectiveness of corrective actions VA officials touted as recently as 10 days ago.
USA TODAY reported April 7 that the VA inspector general found schedulers at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times and supervisors at seven of those facilities instructed them to do so.
VA Wait Times for Aid and Care
VA officials at the time said many of those probes had been finished more than a year ago and they had already imposed discipline in some cases and instituted refresher training for all schedulers. But local VA officials overseeing five centers told the GAO their own internal audits also found schedulers continuing to enter dates improperly.
The VA, in its response to the GAO report, said it will review the situation and make improvements where necessary by the end of the year.
While we know we can do more to improve our access to American Veterans aid and care, we are aggressively implementing changes in our systems, training and processes to improve access, the statement said.
They claim they are doing everything they can to fix the VA wait times and rebuild the trust of veterans who depend on the VA for care.
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