WASHINGTON Congress is likely to move quickly to approve a $16.3 billion compromise bill to refurbish the VA and improve veterans' health care.
But internal VA documents show new depths of fraudulent scheduling, manipulation of data and in some cases intimidation of staff to hide delays in medical care to veterans in the 6-million patient national system.
In Oregon, some startling numbers were recorded. Forty-five percent of employees at the Roseburg VA said they witnessed improper use of the wait list, and 50 percent of employees at both the Portland VA and Southern Oregon VA reported improper wait list use.
In Roseburg, 30 percent of employees said they were told to falsify appointment data. At the Southern Oregon VA in White City, that statistic was 50 percent.
Overall, auditors found at least one appointment scheduler at 109 VA medical centers who said wait times for veterans had been falsified, according to a USA TODAY analysis of internal VA survey data made public Tuesday. To keep evidence of delayed care out of the VA's official electronic tracking system, secret lists were maintained at 110 facilities, the analysis shows.
Workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Wilmington, N.C., told auditors they were fearful of retaliation if they did not manipulate appointment data.
At the Edward Hines Jr. VA hospital in Hines, Ill., near Chicago, staff felt they would be subject to disciplinary action if appointment records were not changed, one report shows.
Managers instructed or encouraged schedulers to falsify appointment data at such VA medical facilities as those in Leeds, Mass.; Jacksonville, N.C.; Virginia Beach and Cleveland, according to the documents.
The audit by the VA's Veterans Health Administration was ordered earlier this year by then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The results were provided to President Obama on May 30, the day Shinseki resigned.
The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Obama's nomination of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as Shinseki's successor. McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati, was approved on a 97-0 vote to replace Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over after Shinseki resigned.
Auditors interviewed more than 3,200 employees at more than 700 clinics and hospitals to gather their findings.