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Report: Wait times manipulated at Houston-area VA clinics

June 21, 2016 (Photo Credit: AP)

 

HOUSTON — Staff at Houston-area Veterans Affairs facilities improperly manipulated wait times for Texas veterans wishing to make a medical appointment, according to a federal report released Monday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General said more than 200 appointments were incorrectly recorded for the year that ended in June 2015. Two former scheduling supervisors and a current director of two VA clinics instructed staff to incorrectly record cancellations as being canceled by the patient, the report shows.

Veterans in many instances then encountered average wait times of nearly three months when the appointments were rescheduled.

"These issues have continued despite the Veterans Health Administration ... having identified similar issues during a May and June 2014 system-wide review of access," according to the report. "These conditions persisted because of a lack of effective training and oversight."

Federal inspectors also determined that wait times for other veterans were understated by more than two months.

As a result, wait times "did not reflect the actual wait experienced by the veterans and the wait time remained unreliable and understated."

VA officials in the Houston area were directed to provide additional training for staff, improve scheduling audit procedures and take other steps to correct the lingering issue.

Similar problems have been found in other states. Scandal erupted in Phoenix nearly two years ago, following complaints that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the city's VA hospital.

VA employees in Texas have previously reported to investigators that they sometimes engaged in misleading scheduling at the behest of their supervisors. But supervisors and administrators at many facilities denied there was a systematic effort to manipulate wait time data. Some told investigators that schedulers may have misunderstood directives, while others said employees had since been retrained to correct the practice.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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