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May-06-2014 12:05printcomments

USA Today Reveals VA Treatment Records at Fort Collins Were Falsified

The Medical Inspector's probe in the Fort Collins case could not confirm that patients had been harmed "due to the lack of specific cases evaluation."

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(WASHINGTON DC USA Today) - A VA investigation of one of its outpatient clinics in Colorado reveals how ingrained delays in medical care may be for an agency struggling to rapidly treat nearly 9 million veterans a year amid allegations that dozens have died because of delays.

Clerks at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins were instructed last year how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency's goal of 14 days, according to the investigation.

A copy of the findings by the VA's Office of Medical Inspector was provided to USA TODAY.

Many of the 6,300 veterans treated at the outpatient clinic waited months to be seen. If the clerical staff allowed records to reflect that veterans waited longer than 14 days, they were punished by being placed on a "bad boy list," the report shows.

"Employees reported that scheduling was 'fixed,' " the findings say.

After enduring a year of criticism that the VA took too long to deliver earned compensation to disabled veterans, a new wave of attacks is building over slow medical care.

Department officials revealed last month that 23 deaths of veterans were linked to delayed cancer screenings dating back four years. More recently, a retired doctor, Sam Foote, alleged that 40 other veterans died because of treatment delays at a VA hospital in Phoenix. VA officials say there's no evidence so far to support those claims, but the hospital administrator was placed on leave pending an investigation by the agency's inspector general ..

Sally Eliano, an Arizona woman, complained that her 71-year-old father-in-law, a Navy veteran, died after delays at the VA hospital in Phoenix in the treatment of bladder cancer.

The Medical Inspector's probe in the Fort Collins case could not confirm that patients had been harmed "due to the lack of specific cases evaluation."

A key allegation by the whistle-blowing retired doctor in Phoenix is that staff members manipulated records to hide delays. The same practice was found by the VA Office of Medical Inspector at the clinic in Fort Collins.

While investigators found that VA policies were violated, local medical leaders concluded that the violations were less intentional than the result of confusion and no disciplinary action was taken, says a VA statement released Saturday. Retraining and weekly audits were implemented, the statement says.

The VA in 2013 revamped some of its tracking procedures to better gauge wait times for nearly 100 million medical appointments each year at 151 hospitals and 820 clinics.

The agency found that only 41% of new VA medical patients were seen within 14 days last year, down from 90% reported in 2012 under an old, now-abandoned measurement method.

The VA found it wasn't doing so well with first-time mental health appointments, either. The agency reported in 2011 that 95% of new mental health patients were seen within 14 days, but the new tracking system found the rate in 2013 was 66%.

Mike Davies, the VA director of access, says the revised system for tracking new-patient appointments has finally provided accurate measurements on wait times. He says the department's commitment to track every single appointment is far more stringent than industry standards.

"I don't think there's any other health-care system that does this," Davies says.

Article continues here...

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/04/va-healthcare-delays-treatment-phoenix-cheyenne-deaths/8602117/

Special thanks to Paul Sutton and Fred Elliott

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