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Government watchdog says VA issued misleading 'fact sheet' on health care delivery

The Department of Veterans Affairs' internal watchdog said Monday that the VA mislead Congress and the public by putting out a "fact sheet" on veterans' medical appointments that was filled with errors earlier this year.

The VA's Office of Inspector General said the Veterans Health Administration put out a document that said it reviewed how it treated all new cases of gastronintestinal cancer since 1999. That fact sheet said 76 patients were treated for that condition, and that 23 had died.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 9.25.46 AM The Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Secretary Robert McDonald, put out a 'fact sheet' that included misleading information earlier this year.
Image: AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray

But the OIG said the VHA had only really examined cases since 2007, not 1999.

"In contrast to this statement, facility managers were instructed to review consults that had been unresolved for more than 90 days but less than 5 years," OIG said. "Facilities were generally not required to review consults that had been unresolved for more than 5 years and could, instead, close those without review."

The OIG also said it found several other factual errors, including attributing incidents to the wrong VA facilities. "[T]he fact sheet may have contained errors, including either overstatements or understatements of institutional disclosures or deaths, for VISNs [Veterans Integrated Service Network] and facilities that we did not contact as part of our review," it said.

Finally, the OIG said the fact sheet included an unsupported claim that the "vast majority" of unresolved issues were related to paperwork problems, and not problems related to health care delivery.

"VHA leaders who were primarily involved in designing and overseeing the review of consults were not able to provide support for this assertion," the OIG said.

The VA used the misleading fact sheet in April, both during a congressional hearing and for the press. VHA later apologized:

"VA inadvertently caused confusion in its communication on this complex set of reviews that were ongoing at the time," it said. "For that, we apologize. There was no intent to mislead anyone with respect to the scope or findings of these reviews."

The VA has been in trouble all year with Congress, after new broke that VA officials falsified data to make it appear as if the VA was delivering health care services to veterans on time, when tens of thousands of veterans were actually facing huge delays. Congress passed legislation earlier this year allowing the VA to fire officials involved in the scandal, but so far, only two have been fired.

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