The Obama administration was reportedly informed five years ago of long wait times and scheduling inaccuracies at Veterans Affairs facilities, a revelation that could set off an already growing scandal.
Top VA officials reportedly told President Barack Obama’s transition team in 2008 that the reported wait times coming out of VA facilities were suspicious and not to be trusted, the Washington Times reported.
“This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying — and potentially denying — deserving veterans timely care,” VA officials said, according to documents obtained by the Times.
Whistleblowers allege that VA facilities in Phoenix and Fort Collins, Colorado, have been falsifying long wait time records to hide the fact that U.S. veterans have been forced to wait for weeks and months to receive medical attention. At least 40 veterans may have died as a result of the VA’s failure to treat their medical conditions.
A VA inspector general in the 2008 transition report delivered to Obama’s team suggested that top officials test the accuracy of reported VA wait times. The inspector general said that further action would be required if officials found “questionable differences” between recorded dates on medical records and dates entered into the Veterans Health Administration’s scheduling system.
As of this writing, it’s unclear whether the Obama White House adopted the inspector general’s recommendation.
The VA’s reported issue with long wait times predates the Obama administration and likely began before even President George W. Bush, according to the documents obtained by the Washington Times.
However, reports that the Obama White House knew of the wait time issue in 2008 will likely raise serious questions from members of Congress about what the White House has done to address the problem.
The scandal prompted the White House last week to announce loudly the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health in the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, considering the fact that Petzel had already announced his intention to retire earlier this year, some veterans advocacy groups saw the White House announcement as little more than damage control.
“To be clear, Dr. Petzel’s resignation is not the step toward accountability that our members need to see from VA leaders. Anyone who has been following this situation knows that Dr. Petzel had already announced his retirement earlier this year.”
The current VA chief, Eric Shinseki, has so far resisted call from veterans advocacy groups and members of Congress to step down, telling the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that he serves “at the pleasure” of President Obama.
Asked if there would be an official investigation by the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder informed reporters last week that federal officials have no plans at the moment to investigate the VA. Instead, Holder said, the DOJ will wait on the results of the VA inspector general’s report on the issue.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter