As the troubles with the Veterans Affairs health care system continue to grow, new evidence was reported by the media Wednesday accusing the hospital in Temple of changing the dates of when veterans requested appointments.
News website the Daily Beast published documents and internal emails from officials within the Central Texas VA system asking employees to change veterans’ desired appointment dates to meet the 14-day window required by VA policy. Meeting these policies can make leaders within the health care system eligible for bonuses.
The Central Texas Veterans Health Care System responded with the results of an audit conducted May 13-15, as directed by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“The Heart of Texas Veterans Integrated Service Network leadership is not aware of any concerns brought up during these audits for the facilities,” according to the statement. Facilities reviewed were in San Antonio, Dallas, Temple, Bonham, Harlingen, Austin, Fort Worth, Waco and McAllen.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is hosting a listening session with veterans in Houston today to hear what kind of challenges Texas veterans are facing with the VA.
“Putting a bonus above the health of a veteran is disgusting and potentially criminal,” he said. “President (Barack) Obama should direct the FBI to look into these allegations immediately.”
Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, also called this recent development disgusting. “We have increased funding to the VA by 300 percent since 2002,” Carter said. “The problem in the VA is the corrupt culture that the president and his administration created by supporting cover-ups like the IRS scandal, Benghazi and Operation Fast and Furious. It’s time for the cover-ups to end and put our veterans first, not bonuses.”
Dr. Gordon Vincent, chief of radiology at Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center in Temple, was included in the Daily Beast article, which accused him of manipulating appointments and ordering others to do so. The document showing Vincent had changed an appointment time was from 2011.
Officials at the Central Texas system provided a chart including all the improvements made in the radiology department since Vincent came on board in 2007, including increasing the number of radiologists and schedulers on staff, as well as the number of CT scanners, MRI scanners and ultrasound machines.
“I think the most tragic aspect of this mess is that the Congress worked with the VA to provide systems to monitor and report problems like excessive wait times,” said Perry Jefferies, TexVet manager and volunteer with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “By defeating those systems, the VA disguises the true nature of the problem, conceals the true need for resources, and worse, puts our veterans waiting for health care — health care they earned and were promised by the nation — puts those veterans at risk.”
A veteran and patient at the Temple VA, Jefferies said it’s not unusual to wait six months for an appointment. “I don’t remember anyone ever asking me what day I want the appointment,” he said. “They tell me when it’s available.”