Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 21, 2014

Veterans Affairs Problems Run Deep, Witnesses Tell House Panel (Video)

miller 061 050714 445x296 Veterans Affairs Problems Run Deep, Witnesses Tell House Panel (Video)

Changes are needed in VA facilities, witnesses told Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On the same day an internal audit revealed 57,000 veterans had waited more than 90 days for their first medical appointments, a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the VA signaled that fixing the problems in the sprawling federal bureaucracy will be far more difficult than just upping spending or passing a single piece of legislation.

In a hearing that took a far more conciliatory and fact-finding tone than previous committee meetings on the subject, Veterans Affairs and Government Accountability Office witnesses spoke at length about the challenges in addressing medical wait times.

For one, Debra Draper of the GAO testified, 43 percent of medical consultations at the VA are closed without the veteran ever seeing a doctor, mostly due to no-shows and cancelled appointments, either by the patient or the doctor.

“Blind scheduling,” as Draper called it, which simply assigns a veteran a doctor’s appointment in a letter without consulting with the patient, resulted in far higher instances of veterans missing appointments than scheduling appointments over the phone.

Much of the problem, the VA assistant deputy undersecretary for health for administrative operations, Philip Matkovsky, said, was due to an appointment scheduling system that had not been updated “in any appreciable manner” since 1985.

As Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida noted, the VA has spent more than $127 million in recent years on a new system that has yet to work.

But while witnesses agreed the current scheduling system is riddled with problems and is not “veteran-centric,” they said issues with wait times and access to health care for veterans extended beyond scheduling methodology.

The major issue, witnesses indicated, was that the VA health system is simply overburdened with patients. As Matkovsky said, goals at the VA were “unrealistic,” and tying bonuses to performances that were unrealistic was an error.

“Not understanding the capacity of our system was a mistake,” Matkovsky said.

While lawmakers are currently looking at allowing veterans to go outside of the VA system for health care if the VA can’t schedule an appointment in 40 days, witnesses expressed skepticism that the problem was that simple. Draper said taking veterans out of the VA health system had a number of “potential pitfalls”; it would effectively remove tracking of veterans’ wait times and health outcomes, which could turn into a method for the VA to juke the stats.

As the acting inspector general of the VA, Richard Griffin, testified, VA statistics are already flimsy. If a veteran called for a doctor’s appointment and was scheduled for a consultation 120 days away — simply because that was the next available appointment — the wait time would be “scored” as zero.

That was a process, Griffin said, that needed to change.

Another, more nefarious method of deceiving the statistics, Griffin said, is for a VA official, unbeknownst to the patient, to go into the system every couple of weeks to cancel and reschedule an appointment.

“There’s plenty of evidence of data manipulation,” Griffin said.

Witnesses repeatedly returned to the theme of changing the culture at the VA, and lawmakers seemed genuinely interested in developing the best possible approach to fixing what a number of members characterized as a “crisis at the VA.”

Largely absent from the hearing were the dramatic and heated exchanges that have typified recent meetings, partly because the witnesses were just as interested as the lawmakers in making changes to the VA. At the outset of his remarks, Matkovsky apologized for the performance of the VA, something which Dan Benishek, R-Mich., said he appreciated.

“I feel sorry for you sitting there,” Benishek said, explaining that Matkovsky was there to “defend the indefensible.”

It was, perhaps, Benishek who took the most indignant tone, saying he also appreciated Griffin’s comment that officials needed to be fired.

Once someone is fired or criminally charged, Griffin said earlier in the hearing, “it will no longer be a game, and it will be the shot heard ’round the system.”

  • Jazzy

    EUC problems run deep, renew UI with retro. Attach EUC bill to VA bill, both are bipartisan in Senate. FIRE SECRETARY OF LABOR. JAZZY FOR CONGRESS

  • Jazzy

    EUC Witness tells Roll Call, problems in Labor run deep.

  • Jack Everett

    More talk and no action as usual. This congress has to be the most useless creation in world history. Play the blame game instead of creating a working program that takes care of our Vets. McConnell wants to save all the money he can to hand over to the illegal trespassers when they become citizens and to hell with the Vets. Playing politics with veterans lives shows how much both parties think of our wounded warriors. Lets cut politicians free insurance ride and put then on VA insurance and see how fast things improve.

  • Jim S.

    The Miller, hasn’t done a thing for vets, poser patriot!!
    VA ‘scandal’? It’s the Country Served and Their Representatives, mostly from conservative ideology and especially under conservative administrations, free wars and privatize for corporate profit causing problems to compound by obstructing full funding and ignoring many many issues, ‘SCANDAL’! Decades and Wars of Long!!

    The Country that ‘Talks the Talk’ but rarely ‘Walks the Walk’, patriotism posers who loves the free wars and ignore any sacrifice as to the long term results from, while ignoring the many issues of Veterans, those that served them, especially as a result of our wars, their representatives leading that ignoring while attacking the under funded VA, decades now and wars from, they control the purse strings of the Country!

    The Fallen Brothers and Sisters and Our Veterans Community are Not a Corporate Marketing Tool Especially on Memorial and Veterans’ Days!!!!!!!

    “In fiscal 2013, the VA spent about $4.8 billion, or about one-tenth of its healthcare costs, on private care, often for veterans who live far from VA facilities or veterans in need of care unavailable at a VA facility.”

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    TX-19 Congressional Candidate Neal Marchbanks – Veteran: 28 March 2014 – “Congress controls the budget for the VA and it is the fault of Congress that the VA does not have enough employees and that the facilities are too small.”
    Congress, in Veteran Marchbanks statement, are the people served and who representatives work for, or are supposed to!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent**

    • Jim S.

      Veterans Affairs ‘scandals’ Are As Old As The Agency

      And by doing so any problems in a much needed growth agency, especially with them poser patriotism flag wavin wars we don’t pay for, are compounded and while grossly under funded brings on more problems!!

      By the way, Congress is Us and especially the 99% served!!

      Yet today’s Congress is “shocked and shocked”

      And in the Shinseki VA they were not only trying to fix what was ignored, by those served, in the agency, they also started addressing the long long…………. ignored issues of previous wars especially. Those few within saw their chance to use politics and their own greed, politics as to the Gen who had a target on him since speaking Military Truth and the bushco firing him!!!

      There’s ‘whistleblowers’ And then ‘political whistleblowers’, and in the grossly under funded for decades VA this is reading like that latter along with greed!!

      And the ones the must upset about are those served who Haven’t Sacrificed, they want everything just hate paying for, especially this whole decade plus and two rubber stamped wars!!

      And being led, especially, by talking heads making multi millions, with huge tax cuts, in the media, all were for them wars, and long time obstructionist conservative pols and followers of and pretty much everyone, easier to attack the VA personal, politics need not matter, being Poser Patriots is true Americanism!!!

      DeJa-Vu all over again!!!

      Sen. Bernie Sanders told Conservatives: “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, than don’t go war. These people are bearing the brunt of what war is about, We have a moral obligation to support them.” February, 26th, 2014

      USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent**

  • Anonymous

    The FBI should also be investigating the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General for failing to investigate over 50 anonymous veteran and employee hotline complaints made within a 2-year period about patient scheduling issues. These complaints raised concerns about hospital staff failures to schedule patient appointments within 14 days of the veterans request.

    Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General has four functions – Audits and Evaluations, Healthcare Inspections, Investigations, and Management and Administration. None of these functions ever bothered to look into these issues despite numerous complaints. Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General has been ineffective in mitigatibg risk such as this and fallen short of increasing efficiency within the Department despite having received increased budget appropriations for the past four years.

  • Magic Newton

    Clearly, Hussein Obama is a liar, a fraud, and a fool.

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