Documents Reveal VA Wait List Issues Were First Known In 2002
An investigation by Mother Jones reveals that the current problems at the Veterans Administration date back to at least 1995.
The underlying issues date back even further. In 1995, as part of a broader overhaul, the VA began pressing clinics to cut wait times for new patient appointments to 30 days. But there was no system for tracking which facilities were meeting this target until 2002, when the VA introduced electronic waiting lists to keep tabs on patients who couldn’t be seen within a month. Managers who slashed wait times were given bonuses and other perks. This created an incentive to game the system, especially after veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars began flooding into VA clinics and straining their already stretched resources.
The efforts to mask delays burst into public view last month, when CNN reported that at least 40 patients—many of whom never made it onto electronic waiting lists—had died while awaiting care from the VA system in Phoenix…
Since then, the VA has faced a volley of scathing allegations about the use of “secret” paper waiting lists to hide lengthy treatment lags. These accusations echo the findings of a 2005 VA inspector general’s report that documented a raft of violations—including the widespread use of paper lists in place of the electronic ones to hide the glut of veterans awaiting appointments. The report urged the Veterans Health Administration “to ensure the electronic waiting list is complete and accurate” and proposed steps to remedy the problem.
Two years later, another inspector general audit found that the VA had failed to act on these recommendations and that schedulers were still using paper lists and other tactics to mask the backlogs. The report recommended that the VA “establish procedures to routinely test the accuracy of reported waiting times and the completeness of electronic waiting lists, and take corrective action when testing shows questionable differences.” At the time, the VA agreed to convene a work group to tackle the issue. A VA spokeswoman declined to comment on whether it had actually done so.