DENVER (AP)— Workers at a Colorado Springs VA clinic incorrectly reported that some veterans got appointments sooner than they actually did, while at least 288 veterans had to wait longer than the government's 30-day target, federal investigators said Thursday.
The investigators didn't say whether the records were deliberately falsified to make the clinic's performance look better than it was.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General reviewed 450 appointments over a one-year span and found that in 59 cases, clinic employees reported veterans got appointments within 30 days even though it took longer — in one case, 77 days.
Investigators also found that 288 veterans, or 64 percent of the cases they checked, had to wait longer than the VA's target of 30 days. The average wait among the 288 late appointments was 66 or 68 days, depending on the type of care the veteran was seeking.
The VA said it removed a management-level employee and reorganized scheduling staff to address the problems. But in a written response included with the investigative report, Cory Ramsey, the VA's interim regional director, said the investigation had retroactively applied some standards in finding fault with the clinic.
The VA has been struggling nationwide to shorten the time veterans have to wait for appointments, and some employees have been accused of falsifying documents to cover up the problem.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., whose district includes the clinic, said he had been assured almost two years ago by VA officials that no records had been falsified in Colorado.
"We have been deceived," he said Thursday. Lamborn said he would call for a congressional hearing into the new report.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said veterans deserve better.
"It is intolerable that investigations continue to uncover these unacceptable practices at the VA," he said. "It's clear from this report that we must continue to demand accountability at the VA and that strong oversight is still essential."
The Inspector General's Office said it looked into the Pfc. Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic in Colorado Springs starting in February 2015 after a veteran complained about service there. Investigators reviewed 150 appointments for five kinds of specialty care and 300 appointments for primary care from October 2014 through September 2015.
The 150 specialty care appointments were randomly selected from more than 7,400 appointments in the one-year period, the report said. The report didn't say how many primary-care appointments the clinic handled in that time or how the 300 were chosen for review.
Under federal law, veterans who can't get appointments within 30 days are supposed to be placed on the Veterans Choice List allowing them to get care elsewhere. The report found that among the 288 late appointments the investigators reviewed, 188 veterans were placed on the list later than they should have been, and 100 were never added.
The Colorado Springs clinic has a history of long wait times. In a six-month period from September 2014 to February 2015, more than 10 percent of the clinic's appointments took more than 30 days to schedule, the highest rate in the state and the 12th-worst among 940 VA clinics and hospitals nationwide.
"I've heard nothing but horror stories on the appointments system," said Kenneth Thibodeau of Colorado Springs, a Vietnam-era veteran who gets VA treatment for diabetes, blindness and an amputated leg.
Thibodeau, 69, said he's been waiting nearly six months for an appointment for a new prosthetic leg to replace the ill-fitting one he has now.
The VA said the clinic's patient numbers increased by more than 13 percent between 2014 and 2015, among the fastest growth rates of any veteran's facility in the country.
VA inspector general's report: http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-15-02472-46.pdf
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