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VA admits 'leadership failure' by imposing unrealistic healthcare goals for veterans

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 30: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki waves goodbye after addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Shinseki is under bipartisan pressure to resign in the wake of an unfolding scandal following a report by the inspector general's office. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on Friday that blamed VA leadership for imposing limits on veterans' wait times for healthcare that were completely unrealistic, given the high demand for medical treatment and the relatively low supply of available healthcare providers.

"Meeting a 14 day wait-time performance target for new appointments was simply not attainable given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services," the VA admitted in a summary of its nationwide audit.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 30: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, the same day a VA report blamed 'leadership failures' for setting unrealistic healthcare goals. Win McNamee/Getty Images

"Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining required resources and its ensuring broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure."

Those two sentences may explain why VA officials across the country worked so hard to cover up the fact that veterans were not seeing doctors between 14 and 30 days after making an appointment. That coverup was uncovered in April, and led to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation on Friday.

The VA's report is a summary of the first phase on its audit, which involved assessments of all VA medical centers that serve at least 10,000 veterans. Reviews of other sites will follow, and that second phase is expected to be finished by early June.

"Of the 216 site audit reports, many were flagged for further review because of concerns identified by the site audit team about questionable scheduling practices, signaling a systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities," it said.

The summary lays out some of the details that lead it to that conclusion. For example, it says 13 percent of scheduling staff reported they were told to enter a "desired date" medical appointments that was different from the date the veteran requested.

"Information indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make Waiting Times appear more favorable."

The report outlined some of the steps VA is taking that Shinseki himself discussed Friday morning, in a speech he delivered just before he offered to resign.

It said the VA would stop using short wait times as a means of determining bonus awards for senior officials, a link that the report says appears to have shifted the VA's focus from providing healthcare to meeting numbers goals.

"[W]hen tied to rewards, measurement of system performance runs the risk of engendering a culture where the appearance of success becomes the driving force," it said.

Read the summary of the VA's report here:

Va Report

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