Internal VA emails sent last week suggest a new scandal is bubbling to the surface. The latest controversy surrounds the scheduling of medical consultations which, as we have explained before, have been a major source of delay for veterans seeking VA healthcare.
On November 20, Dr. Lara Wagner, the Director of Sleep Medicine Services at the New Mexico VA Medical Center fired-off an email regarding a strange issue she had encountered. According to Dr. Wagner’s email, she noticed that requests for consultations that had been pending for over a year were mysteriously being canceled and then re-entered into the system.
After listing a number of instances where consultations had simply disappeared, Wagner wrote “it is distressing to find out that many of the studies that we ordered have not been performed,” continuing by saying that “it is horrifying to think that these patients are going to fall through the cracks because these consults are being canceled.” Suspicious of why the consultations were being canceled, she inquired “surely we are not canceling [these year-old] consults in order to make it seem that care is not being delayed.”
After sending the message, Dr. Aaron Pierce echoed Wagner’s concerns, saying that he too had noticed that older requests for consultations were being mysteriously canceled and re-entered and asking whether “there is something particularly important/relevant about a consult still being open after a year?” Being more blunt that Wagner, Piece wrote that it “should be documented accurately” if it is “really taking a year for Integrated Care/Triwest to complete” consultations. He also complained that canceling an old consultation requests and creating a new one required him to repeat work unnecessarily.
In response to the messages from Wagner and Piece, Acting Chief of Staff James Groff responded by writing that “we have a major issue with open consults greater than [one year] and we are going through a facility wide herculean effort to resolve many old consults.” Continuing, Groff told the doctors “Do not shoot the messenger- get smart about the process.” What the Acting Chief of Staff meant by this is not clear.
While it is unclear what exactly is going on at the New Mexico VA Medical Center, it seems that doctors at that facility believe that the VA regularly cancels and then re-enters appointments into its computer system in an effort to conceal the amount of time that veterans are waiting for healthcare. When reached by comment on this issue by the Daily Caller, the source that originally broke this story, a VA official said that “no consults are being inappropriately cancelled.”
The VA spokesperson said “in some cases, consults are sometimes cancelled at the request of the patient, or when no longer clinically indicated.” Yet neither of these reasons could explain the issues revealed by the VA doctors, who say that the consults are being canceled and then immediately re-entered into the system. While it is too early to tell, the VA physicians appear to suggest that deleting the delayed consultations and then re-entering them into the system serves to conceal the amount of time that veterans are waiting for treatment.