Nearly 40 percent of employees interviewed by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Charleston VA Medical Center reported that they were instructed to falsify appointment data, according to the results of an internal audit.
By the numbers
Employees interviewed at VA hospitals and clinics across the country said they were told to track appointments outside of the official system and falsify appointment data.
These are the percentages of employees at VA hospitals in Charleston, Columbia and Augusta that reported they engaged in the following activities:
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, Charleston
Correctly used the wait list: 38.7 percent
Tracked appointments outside of the official system: 6.5 percent
Told to manipulate appointment data: 38.7 percent
Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, Augusta
Correctly used the wait list: 21.4 percent
Tracked appointments outside of the official system: 14.3 percent
Told to manipulate appointment data: 15.4 percent
William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, Columbia
Correctly used the wait list: 24 percent
Tracked appointments outside of the official system: 8 percent
Told to manipulate appointment data: 16 percent
Source: Veterans Health Administration
That's much higher than the national average across more than 900 VA facilities. VA documents dated July 25 show that only 12.8 percent of employees interviewed across the country said they were told to manipulate similar data.
In Charleston, 6.5 percent of employees said they tracked appointments in places other than the official scheduling system. Tonya Lobbestael, a spokeswoman for the medical center, said the administration is not aware that any staff have been instructed to falsify data.
The new audit shows that 38.7 percent of scheduling staff reported that they used the system correctly.
In Columbia, 16 percent of VA medical center employees said they were told to manipulate appointment data.
"Any VA employee, regardless of seniority and status, that was involved in the manipulation of appointment schedules and wait times, should be fired immediately," U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., said Wednesday.
Last month, Scott Isaacks, interim director of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, told The Post and Courier that the hospital does not use secret waiting lists.
"On numerous occasions over the years, we have validated that there are no secret lists, that the scheduling is appropriate," Isaacks said on June 2. "Based upon the discussion recently, all of my service chiefs that have responsibility for scheduling, I asked them to revalidate that we do not have secret lists, we do not have any unofficial records that are not being put into our system and they validated that that is the case."
The new audit, which The Associated Press reported was made available to members of Congress on Monday, was conducted after a national scandal exposed that veterans were dying because of treatment delays at VA medical centers. The problems were particularly pronounced at a VA hospital in Phoenix. Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid the allegations in May. He has been replaced by Bob McDonald, the former chief executive of Procter & Gamble and a U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate.
Lobbestael said only 5 percent of employees who schedule appointments at the Charleston VA Medical Center and associated clinics were interviewed for the audit.
"As these new details make painfully obvious, the environment in today's Veterans Health Administration is one in which some VA executives are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk," said U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, in a prepared statement.
The House is scheduled to take up a $17 billion compromise bill on Wednesday afternoon that would "refurbish the VA and improve veterans' health care," the AP reported.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.