by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:LAKE CITY, Fla. —
A 54-page audit reveals improper scheduling of appointments and singles out several Florida VA medical centers, including one in Lake City, as needing further review.
An internal audit conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found widespread reports of altered patient appointments.
Lake City's medical center is one of 81 sites flagged for further review. Commander James Sutherland of American Legion Post 57 in Lake City wasn't surprised to hear of more problems in the VA system.
"Our veterans, you know, they're people that laid their lives on the line for us and we ought to treat them above anybody else," said Sutherland.
The audit details how employees interviewed in 90 sites indicated having altered desired dates. In 24 sites, staff reported they felt threatened or coerced to enter specific desired dates, and in at least two sites, employees reported they were written up for either not complying when supervisors ordered them to inappropriately enter recorded dates or for expressing concerns about their tasks.
While the audit does not say which center did what, the chairman for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller, sent Action News this statement: "As these new details make painfully obvious, the environment in today’s Veterans Health Administration is one in which some VA executives are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk. While the inspector general investigates these facilities in more detail to find out who was responsible for these schemes, one thing is certain: Any VA administrator who ordered subordinates to purposely manipulate appointment data should be fired immediately. As co-chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Conference Committee, I’m pleased that we have reached a bipartisan agreement to bring some much needed accountability to VA and provide veterans with timelier access to health care. I look forward to working with my counterparts in the House and Senate to send this crucial reform package to the president in short order.”
According to the audit, the VA will hold senior leaders accountable to implement changes stemming from the audit itself. A VA spokesperson told Action News Lake City's medical center did not use an outside log to track patients on the waiting list, but the audit did find that a clinician was keeping a private list of patients for his clinic for no apparent reason.
The list was turned over to the VA privacy officer for an investigation of a potential privacy rule violation. The clinician still works at the Lake City VA medical center.
The audit itself faced limitations. According to the report, it couldn't distinguish whether much of the problems stemmed from a lack of understanding or if it was intentional.