VA Watchdog Finds Serious Fraud, But Suggests NO Corrective Action

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Investigators for the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General found serious fraud and regulatory violations linked to scheduling problems at 51 VA medical facilities, but then failed to recommend any corrective actions.

The VA’s inspector general finished investigating 73 medical facilities following the wait-time scandal at the Phoenix hospital, but hasn’t publicly released any of the reports, even though they were completed before Dec. 9, reported USA TODAY Wednesday.

“The reports of (wait-time) investigation are not issued and do not make a recommendation or suggest a corrective action,” IG spokeswoman Catherine Gromek told USA TODAY. “We transfer our findings to VA’s Office of Accountability and Review (OAR) for any administrative action they deem appropriate.”

In a related development, the VA IG “failed to adequately investigate whistleblower disclosures about veterans’ access to mental healthcare,” the Office of Special Counsel reported Thursday.

Two whistleblowers – Germaine Clarno from Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago and Christopher Shea Wilkes from Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana – reported that they were required to “violate VA scheduling protocols,” which “created a false appearance of acceptable wait times while masking significant delays in veterans’ access to care,” OSC wrote in a letter to Congress and the White House.

“The OIG failed to adequately address the whistleblowers’ core concerns about access to care and whether these practices violated VA directives,” the letter said.

The IG “limited its investigation to whether” employees were using “secret” spreadsheets outside the VA’s official scheduling system, rather than if there was an issue with access to mental health care or wait times.

“The focus and tone of the IG’s investigations appear to be intended to discredit the whistleblowers by focusing on the word ‘secret,’ rather than reviewing the access to care issues identified by the whistleblowers and in the OSC referrals,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a statement.

Additionally, a law President Barack Obama signed in December requires the VA IG to release reports within three days after their completion, but Gromek told USA TODAY the law doesn’t apply to those without recommendations.

“As a result, it’s impossible to tell which medical centers had problems, how serious those problems were, or whether they led to the deaths of any veterans,” USA TODAY reported. One veteran was killed by his medications five months after the IG completed an unreleased report regarding dangerous prescriptions at a Wisconsin VA.

At least 40 patients died awaiting care at the Phoenix VA facility, where officials manipulated wait times. The IG’s August 2014 report on the facility noted that such manipulation was occurring at other VA hospitals.

USA TODAY also noted 29 employees faced disciplinary action, including three who retired or resigned.

But the VA often moves underperforming directors to new locations rather than actually disciplining them. Nearly 100 VA hospital administrators were each shuffled to three or more states in the last eight years, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.

The head of one of the worst veterans hospitals was sent to the Philippines’ VA facility, where she lives in government-supplied housing and is paid a $160,000 salary, where the average income is only $2,500.

The VA OIG did not return requests for comment.

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