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VA Report Substantiates Serious Wait Time Manipulation In Arkansas

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inspector general (IG) just confirmed without a shadow of a doubt serious wait time manipulation at the VA medical center in Little Rock, Ark.

The Arkansas report is the latest in a series of reports being steadily released on wait time manipulation at VA facilities across the country. Previous reports haven’t been kind to the department, but the report on Little Rock is particularly damning.

A medical support assistant confessed to investigators a fellow employee instructed him on how to manipulate the desired appointment date listed by the veteran to match with whatever appointment date was available. This practice, called “zeroing out,” is a familiar method of manipulation. According to the support assistant, when he finally figured out what was going on and entered in veterans’ actual desired dates, a total of 28 veterans were listed as being on extended wait lists.

Almost immediately, a supervisor emailed him and said to zero out those appointments, which the assistant considered to be a reprimand.

A second medical support assistant, MSA2, said he thought the zeroing out practice “was a numbers’ game and was done to make the facility look good by showing no wait times for veterans.”

The supervisor from the first incident admitted to investigators “they were trained to always zero out the wait times by making the desired date the same as the next available appointment date.”

Unlike other facilities, where the zeroing out practice ended after reports of wait time manipulation emerged from Phoenix, Little Rock supervisors continued to instruct employees to fiddle with the scheduling system.

One support assistant “received instructions to zero out wait times as recently as the morning when she was interviewed by VA OIG staff.”

A second supervisor confessed to investigators she knew the practice constituted manipulation but continued because “it was what they were trained to do.”

In other reports, investigators hedged findings, but in this case, the IG “substantiated that both non-supervisory and supervisory VAMC employees were improperly scheduling patient appointments by manipulating the appointment dates in the VA computer system, resulting in the appearance of significantly lower wait times for veterans’ clinical appointments.”

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