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EXCLUSIVE: VA Doesn’t Discipline Arkansas Supervisors For Wait Time Manipulation

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

A government watchdog confirmed serious wait time manipulation at VA facilities in Arkansas, yet not a single supervisor received any kind of discipline for their involvement, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

So far, only two low-level employees have been disciplined in the form of a temporary written warning.

The investigation clearly found that the scandal, which mostly affected the medical center in Little Rock, had “both non-supervisory and supervisory VAMC employees were improperly scheduling patient appointments by manipulating the appointment dates in the VA computer system.”

Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System spokesman Debby Meece told Arkansas Online that employees were disciplined as a result of wait time manipulation. She declined to say exactly what the punishments consisted of, but claimed they were “not insignificant.”

With internal documents in hand, the nature and scope of the punishments is now clear, throwing Meece’s claim into complete disrepute.

Only two extremely low-level medical support assistants were punished, and the punishment was not serious at all. The written reprimand they received is only temporary, which is the second lowest form of punishment possible in the department. Supervisors got off scot-free, which is remarkable, given that the report notes, “Two VAMC supervisory employees displayed a lack of candor while making statements to special agents of VA Office of Inspector General regarding their knowledge and/or participation in the manipulation of patient waiting times.”

Lack of candor, apparently, is not enough to merit any kind of disciplinary action.

The wait time manipulation consisted of taking a veterans’ desired appointment date and equating it with the next available date, effectively making the wait time zero. This process, which is a clear violation of VA policy, is known as “zeroing out” appointments. When one medical support assistant discovered what was going on and decided to actually schedule appointments according to desired date, his supervisor told him to cut it out and “fix” the appointments to make it appear as though no wait times existed.

The practice of manipulation dated back to at least 2011.

Administrative action against just two employees is indicative of the VA’s lackluster approach to discipline across the country. The House has tried to empower the department with new tools to fire employees through the VA Accountability Act, although the legislation has passed the House, it has sat in the Senate virtually untouched. There’s no indication the Senate is going to pick it up anytime soon.

In fact, the Senate held a legislative hearing Tuesday, in which they discussed a VA proposal to allow the department to speed up discipline against senior executives. The proposed tweaks, however, would not apply to 99.9 percent of regular employees.

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