Though a local congressman is crying “cover-up” regarding the current VA scandal, a 2-year-old report highlighted the problems now coming to light at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple.
Both U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are listed as recipients of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report dated January 2012.
The report was then posted online, but neither the media nor the lawmakers spoke out about it at that time.
A spokeswoman in Cornyn’s office said the senator’s office did receive the report at the time of its release.
“Our office ... repeatedly asked the Department of Veterans Affairs for additional information related to the health of our veterans and the growing backlog. Unfortunately, as recent reports have shown, the problems have only grown,” said Megan Mitchell, with the senator’s office.
In addition to prolonged wait times leading to delays in certain cancer diagnosis tests and the reuse of unclean medical equipment, the report also mentions “appointments were routinely made incorrectly by using the next available appointment date instead of the patient’s desired date.”
In response to the findings of the 2012 inspector general’s report, Deborah Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, said the Temple hospital took action years ago.
“We had a plan back then, and those things have been addressed,” she said.
That plan included adding staff and equipment, Meyer said. Currently, the VA is considering adding staff at the Temple hospital and extending hours for certain services.
Carter’s office said the 2012 report was generated as a result of his inquiry to the VA because of constituents who brought issues to his attention.
Though the report is public, his office never produced a news release that year on the matter, because “constituents who contacted our office did not authorize us to share their information,” his office said.
“Most importantly, Congressman Carter’s intent was to solve these problems for veterans and put them first, not gain political points in the media.
“We feel as though our efforts indeed brought on the leadership change at the Temple VA,” said Taylor Gilliam, spokesman for Carter.
The Herald was unable to confirm with Meyer what leadership change.
In a Herald story Thursday, Carter described the situation in Temple as a “corrupt culture that the president and his administration created by supporting cover-ups like the IRS scandal, Benghazi and Operation Fast and Furious.”
Carter’s Democratic opponent in November’s election, Army Reserve Capt. Louie Minor, called attention Thursday to the congressman’s receipt of the 2012 report because he said “it is imperative for veterans and constituents to be aware that John Carter had prior knowledge of these issues at the Temple VA.”
“It is disgraceful to use my fellow veterans to attack President (Barack) Obama and the administration when John Carter should be held equally liable,” Minor said.
Carter’s office said the cover-up he referenced Thursday was the “current situation.”
The Temple VA facility is just one of many VA health care centers to come under fire in recent months for altering veterans’ desired appointment dates to meet wait-time goals.
A report released Wednesday by the inspector general described the department’s problems as “deep-seated.”
Both before and after the 2012 report was released on the Temple hospital, it earned recognition from the VA.
The Temple hospital took second place for the Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Award in 2011 and 2012.
The award recognizes organizations within the department that have “implemented management approaches that result in sustained high levels of performance and service to the veterans we serve,” according to the VA website.
Part of the 2012 award packet included information showing the issue of incorrectly inputting desired appointments was corrected and done so through training of “front line employees” in October 2011.
However, an email sent in August 2012 to Carter’s office by local VA employees and obtained by the Herald discredits both statements.
The email states that on Aug. 6, 2012, an employee described that “they were being instructed by their supervisor to offer an available date, and enter the date that the patient acquiesced to as the patient’s desired date. This is an inappropriate scheduling practice ...”