Heated Hearing: VA Artfully Dodges Questions On Wait Time Manipulation

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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During a heated hearing at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Tuesday, the VA refused to give Congress any kind of concrete answer on whether supervisors who instructed employees to manipulate wait times were disciplined.

In previous hearings, members of Congress have simply asked their question and moved on to the next one.

But this time was different. GOP Rep. [crscore]Lee Zeldin[/crscore] pressed Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin repeatedly for an answer to his question on disciplinary actions against supervisors and refused to accept what sounded like carefully rehearsed evasions.

“Of the supervisors, how many of them have been fired?” Zeldin initially asked.

“We have four total of all those IG reports when I add up going across that—we have 29 individuals that have been disciplined,” Shulkin responded. “I think Chairman Miller had said before four had been fired. I’m aware of five who have retired under investigation. So, rather than letting the investigation go forward, they decided to retire from federal service.”

“Have any supervisors who instructed employees to falsify patient wait times—have any not been disciplined?” Zeldin asked again.

“Oh, I suspect that of people investigated, there were many, many more than 29, probably lots more that were investigated, and the evidence did not suggest that there was discipline that needed to be imposed,” Shulkin said.

“Are you saying there were supervisors who instructed employees to falsify patient wait times who have not been disciplined?” Zeldin asked for the third time.

“Of the investigations we’ve done that found intestinal—that found intentional manipulation, we then would send in our Office of Accountability Review to do these investigations – everybody that was found to have an action or found to have a behavior that required disciplinary action, we have imposed, or they have been fired,” Shulkin said.

“So no one has not been disciplined,” Zeldin asked.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Shulkin said.

“We’re going in circles right now,” Zeldin said.

The circles didn’t resolve. Zeldin’s query partly stems from reports of VA supervisors who were not disciplined for wait time manipulation.

The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in March that the VA declined to discipline supervisors in Arkansas for wait time manipulation. An inspector general report had determined, “both non-supervisory and supervisory VAMC employees were improperly scheduling patient appointments by manipulating the appointment dates in the VA computer system.”

Instead, the VA decided to just discipline two regular employees with written warnings.

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