Thursday, June 05, 2014

Feinstein Calls for Action to Resolve VA Wait Times, Employee Misconduct

Senator Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Her office issued the following on Monday:

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson asking for an immediate review of medical appointment wait times at all California VA facilities.

“It has become clear that the VA has failed to address long appointment wait times for veterans, instead allowing a culture of cover-ups to take hold.” Feinstein said. “It is unacceptable that veterans are forced to wait months for appointments. Congress must act quickly and decisively and I will support legislation to address this situation.”

Feinstein supports including the following provisions in legislation to reform VA health care access:

•Grant the VA Secretary authority to remove Senior Executive Service employees due to poor job performance.
•Allow veterans to use non-VA facilities to receive hospital care and medical services.
•Allow the VA to bypass the cumbersome hiring process to more quickly hire doctors, nurses and other health care providers.
•Provide emergency funding to hire more health care providers to address shortages of workers that exist throughout the VA system.
•Create a commission to review issues related to VA health care and recommend ways to address problems.
•Take actions such as upgrading the VA’s antiquated scheduling system to improve the department’s performance.

Feinstein noted the Department of Veterans Affairs has known about the problem of extreme wait times for at least a decade and has not solved the issue. According to a report by the VA inspector general released last week, “Since 2005, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care.”

Fraud allegations

Senator Feinstein expressed frustration that a December 2012 GAO report identified a history of record tampering at VA health care facilities. In March 2013, GAO Health Care Director Debra Draper testified about the report before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs, saying “staff at some clinics told us they change medical appointment desired dates to show clinic wait times within VHA’s performance goals.”

“The 2012 GAO report tells me one thing: that VA knew about this problem many months ago but instead of taking action to fix it, employees created schemes to cover up the problem,” Feinstein said. “This is inexcusable and speaks to deeper problems within the VA.”

On April 30, 2014, Feinstein wrote a letter to VA Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin calling for an expansion of the investigation into the Phoenix VA Health Care System to determine if similar problems were prevalent at other VA health care facilities.

California VA wait times

Full text of the letter sent today regarding wait times at California VA facilities follows:

June 2, 2014
Mr. Sloan D. Gibson
Acting Secretary
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Acting Secretary Gibson,

I write today to request that you immediately review all medical appointment wait times for Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Health System facilities in California. I am deeply disturbed by the Office of the Inspector General’s recent findings that there are systemic practices in your Department to cover up delayed healthcare delivery to veterans. It is critical that your Department take steps to ensure that California’s veterans do not suffer negative healthcare outcomes due to untimely delays in receiving medical appointments. I also believe that your Department should treat this matter as a public health crisis facing our nation’s veterans.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an interim report on May 28 of an investigation into the Phoenix VA Health System, where the OIG identified systematic deceptive practices of hiding unacceptable wait times for veterans to receive medical appointments. Based on these findings, Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin recommended that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs review wait lists and appointment scheduling at all VA Health Systems to ensure veterans are receiving timely healthcare. OIG specifically identified that the Phoenix VA System hid the wait times for 1,700 veterans, including 226 veterans who were waiting more than three months to receive an initial primary care appointment. Clearly, these veterans were put at risk for suffering negative healthcare outcomes due to the delayed delivery of essential healthcare.

I am aware that there are reports of veterans waiting up to 90 days to receive a primary care appointment through the Los Angeles and Long Beach VA Health Systems. California has the largest population of veterans in the United States, with many of these veterans living in Southern California. As such, I believe it is important to complete a thorough and immediate evaluation of the Department’s healthcare delivery in California.

Please plan to respond to me within 10 business days given the importance of ensuring that California’s veterans have access to essential healthcare. I look forward to working with you closely to ensure the health and wellbeing of our nation’s veterans in your new role as Acting Secretary. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, or have your staff contact Tristan Colonius in my office at 202-224-2004.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator