The top watchdog for the Department of Veterans Affairs said late Monday that the Obama administration is still discussing whether to bring criminal charges against VA officials who manipulated healthcare wait times for veterans, to make it appear that veterans weren’t waiting very long.
Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, told Congress he has seen evidence that some VA officials purposefully altered wait times.
“We have found indications of some supervisors directing some of the methodologies to change the times,” he told House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). When pressed by Miller, Griffin said his office is discussing the possibility of criminal charges with the Department of Justice.
“We have been in discussion with the Department of Justice concerning those and whether or not in the opinion of the Department of Justice they rise to the level of criminal prosecution,” he said. “It’s still to be determined in most instances.”
Miller replied by saying that update is more than he’s heard from the Department of Justice so far.
Miller and others have pressed for criminal charges in some cases, after the VA admitted the long wait times contributed to the death of 40 veterans.
Miller held his hearing on the same day that the VA released the result of its nation-wide audit about how many veterans were seeing long wait times, or were being prevented from having their names added to any waiting list.
That audit found 57,000 veterans were waiting for 90 days before getting their first medical appointment. It also found that 64,000 veterans had been denied appointments after requesting them.
Griffin said a typical scenario under the broken VA system was that a veteran would ask for an appointment, he would get one 120 days from his request, and that date would be marked down as the date requested by the veteran.
Just before the hearing started, Chairman Miller responded to the audit report by proposing the Veterans Access to Care Act, which would let veterans get care outside the VA system if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
It would also ban bonuses for all VA employees for three years, and require more oversight of the VA’s healthcare system.
Upon the release of the audit, the VA said it is already taking many new oversight steps. But earlier in the day, the House quickly approved its own preferred way of oversight — it approved a bill requiring the Inspector General to report to Congress whenever the VA fails to adhere to a recommendation on how to improve care.