Employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) destroyed veterans’ medical files in a systematic attempt to eliminate backlogged veteran medical exam requests, a former VA employee told The Daily Caller.
Audio of an internal VA meeting obtained by TheDC confirms that VA officials in Los Angeles intentionally canceled backlogged patient exam requests.
“The committee was called System Redesign and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to correct the department’s efficiency. And one of the issues at the time was the backlog,” Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran and former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center, told TheDC.
“We just didn’t have the resources to conduct all of those exams. Basically we would get about 3,000 requests a month for [medical] exams, but in a 30-day period we only had the resources to do about 800. That rolls over to the next month and creates a backlog,” Mitchell said. “It’s a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospitals efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.”
By 2008, some patients were “waiting six to nine months for an exam” and VA “didn’t know how to address the issue,” Mitchell said.
VA Greater Los Angeles Radiology department chief Dr. Suzie El-Saden initiated an “ongoing discussion in the department” to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans’ medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus reducing the backlog, Mitchell said.
Audio from a November 2008 meeting obtained by TheDC depicts VA Greater Los Angeles officials plotting to cancel backlogged exam requests.
“I’m still canceling orders from 2001,” said a male official in the meeting.
“Anything over a year old should be canceled,” replied a female official.
“Canceled or scheduled?” asked the male official.
“Canceled. … Your backlog should start at April ’07,” the female official replied, later adding, “a lot of those patients either had their studies somewhere else, had their surgery … died, don’t live in the state. … It’s ridiculous.”
El-Saden, according to Mitchell, was “the person who said destroy the records.” And her plan was actually carried out during the Obama administration’s management of VA.
“That actually happened,” Mitchell said. “We had that discussion in November 2008 and then in March 2009 they started to delete the exams. Once you cancel or delete an order it automatically cancels out that record” so that no record of the exam requests remained.
Mitchell tried to blow the whistle on the scheme and ended up being transferred out of his department and eventually losing his job.
“I actually filed a complaint with the VA [Inspector General] IG and the office of special counsel. The IG requested if I had any documentation. They wanted names. I gave them [about] a thousand names,” Mitchell said. “The list I turned into the IG went all the way back to 1997.”
“I filed the initial complaint with the IG. … The IG instead of doing their own investigation just gave it to the facility and made them aware of my complaint.”