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Updated Aug 26, 2014 - 4:53 pm

IG: Shoddy care by VA didn’t cause Phoenix deaths

WASHINGTON — Government investigators found no proof that delays in care
caused veterans to die at a Phoenix VA hospital, but they found plenty of
problems that the Veterans Affairs Department is promising to fix.

Investigators uncovered large-scale improprieties in the way VA hospitals and
clinics across the nation have been scheduling veterans for appointments,
according to a report released Tuesday by the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

Revelations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital rocked the agency last spring, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well.

Among the findings:

• Thirty staff stated they used the wrong desired date of care, resulting in appointments
showing a false 0-day wait time.

• Eleven staff stated they “fixed” or were instructed to “fix” appointments with wait times
greater than 14 days. They did this by rescheduling the appointment for the same date and
time but with a later desired date.

• Twenty-eight staff stated they either printed out or received printouts of patient information
for scheduling purposes. Staff said they kept the printouts in their desks for days or
sometimes weeks before the veterans were scheduled an appointment or placed on the EWL.

“Inappropriate scheduling practices are a nationwide systemic problem,” said
the report by Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general. “These
practices became systemic because (the Veterans Health Administration) did not
hold senior headquarters and facility leadership responsible and accountable.”

The report could deflate an explosive allegation that helped launch the scandal
in the spring: that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the
Phoenix VA hospital. Investigators identified 40 patients who died while
awaiting appointments in Phoenix, the report said, but added: “While the case
reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to
conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of
these veterans.”

Nevertheless, top VA officials said the report’s findings were troubling.

Addressing the American Legion’s national convention in Charlotte, N.C.,
President Barack Obama said lengthy wait times and attempts to hide scheduling
flaws were “outrageous and inexcusable.”

“We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there,” Obama said. “And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up
to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens.”


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