Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in Iowa and South Dakota secretly placed thousands of veterans on “ghost panels,” where they were assigned to doctors who no longer worked at the facilities.
A new report from the VA inspector general released Thursday found the policy violations took place in Iowa City, Iowa, and Black Hills, S.D., The Associated Press reports.
Placing patients with doctors who no longer work at the facility is a way VA administrators make it appear as though caseloads for physicians are smaller than they are, according to critics of the practice.
In Iowa City, 1,245 veterans were given to doctors who weren’t at the medical center anymore and instead had departed for other VA facilities. Two other panels existed in the Black Hills health care system, which held 1,056 patients.
Luckily, the report noted that veterans weren’t harmed as a result of this underhanded practice, as the hospitals managed to find other ways to provide care to those vets.
Still, since the practice itself violates departmental policy, the inspector general told the hospitals to cut it out.
The excuse given to investigators was that administrators expected to hire new doctors to replace the old ones in a matter of months.
But despite what hospital administrators said, the report still upset members of Congress.
“The use of ghost panels at any Veterans Administration facility to misrepresent the true panel size is disconcerting,” Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack said, according to The Gazette. “The fact that the VA has created an environment where the use of ghost panels appears to be in use across the nation is unacceptable. … VA leadership must be held accountable for their actions.”
Democratic Rep. Timothy Walz, who initially requested the investigation in response to a whistleblower from Minnesota, said in a joint statement with GOP Rep. Tom Emmer, “Misrepresenting panel sizes is completely unacceptable and a serious breach of the public trust. We call on the Secretary of the VA to hold anyone who intentionally misled veterans, members of Congress and the public accountable.”
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