WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — A Veterans Affairs whistleblower says that department hospitals not only kept veterans waiting for months, but her supervisors used “a simple computer trick” to make it appear that veterans had no wait times at all.
A VA employee showed CBS News how Hines VA Medical Center employees outside Chicago were directed by superiors to input appointment times in their computer system to make it appear that veterans waiting weeks or months for appointments had “zero wait time.”
“They started telling us that we needed to put in, make the wait time zero wait time, to make it seem like the patient didn’t have to wait that long,” she told CBS News. “I am scamming the system … a simple computer trick.”
The VA insider demonstrated how the department software, Vista, could extend a veteran’s requested appointment day for 13 days – and then simply erase that preliminary waiting period, before extending it even longer.
“No wait time,” she said over the cover-up, noting that the typical wait time was three months.
Three of her co-workers and sources at four others tell CBS News that the computer scam has been used for years – and supervisors demanded these actions of employees.
“They started telling us that we need to make the wait time, zero wait time, to make it seem like the patient didn’t have to wait too long,” she said. They were told directly and “verbally by our immediate supervisor.”
And if they did not comply with their supervisors?
“We get a write-up and you have to correct it” in order to keep your job, she said, adding that she would lose her job if she did not continue to falsify the wait-time data.
She noted that “bonuses” for her VA directors were the main reason for the cover-up of waiting times, because otherwise departments around the country would have to ask headquarters for more physicians.
The VA gave CBS News no response to the alleged computer cover-ups, instead directing questions over to the Office of the Inspector General, which had no comment.
According to an interim report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general, about 1,400 veterans were on an electronic waiting list and had appointments for care; another 1,700 veterans were waiting for an appointment but were not on the list, putting them “at risk of being forgotten or lost” in a convoluted scheduling process.
A statistical sample of 226 veterans seeking health care at the Phoenix VA facilities found that they waited an average 115 days for their first appointment, but records were falsified to show they had waited only an average 24 days.
But a growing list of whistleblowers from VA hospitals continue to demonstrate that such deliberate cover-ups and problems are a systemic problem across the country.