March 2 Veterans News

March 2 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateCounsel for whistleblowers blasts IG reports on VA wait time scandal (Military Times) The VA Office of Inspector General has started publishing its findings of investigations launched two years ago into charges that VA medical facilities adjusted patient appointment schedules to meet department standards. Now the conclusions in at least two of 77 completed investigations have prompted the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and several senators to question the VA watchdog agency’s independence, calling for a review of what they say is the IG’s “failure to respond to the issues raised.” The OIG released 15 reports on scheduling problems at VA hospitals and clinics in Florida, Iowa and Minnesota on Monday, following complaints from members of Congress and the media that the office was sitting on the investigations, which were completed in 2014. The reports found procedural aberrations at nine of the 15 facilities investigated, but the VA inspector general noted that in most cases, patient care was unaffected and managers did not direct employees to manipulate the wait times. VA officials said Monday that the remainder of the 77 completed investigations will show that the IG found no scheduling irregularities in 25 investigations and found intentional misconduct in 18 cases. According to VA, it disciplined 29 employees in those cases, “with actions ranging from admonishment to removal.” “This includes three employees who retired or resigned with discipline pending,” VA officials noted in a statement. In two yet-to-be published cases, however, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, says the VA IG downplayed the scope of its findings of wrongdoing, at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, Louisiana, and Hines VA Hospital, Illinois. Lerner, investigating whistleblower complaints, sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday objecting to the IG investigations. Lerner called the investigations “incomplete,” adding that they did not adequately investigate whistleblower charges and instead focused on whether separate appointment spreadsheets used by the facilities, that were secondary to the VA’s official appointment system, were “secret.” The IG office concluded that the spreadsheets were not secret because employees at the VA hospitals knew about the lists. “The OIG’s decision to investigate this straw man resulted in inadequate reviews that failed to address the whistleblower’s legitimate concerns about access to care,” Lerner wrote. A scandal erupted throughout the VA in the spring of 2014 after allegations surfaced that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at the VA Phoenix Health Care System. … In the wake of the scandal, the VA IG investigated 111 facilities and found problems at 77. The investigation results are either published or pending. Of the 15 reports released Monday, nine indicate that the facilities either manipulated the scheduling process to make sure that they met a 14-day window for scheduling an appointment, used paper wait lists or spreadsheets to track veterans outside the official appointment system, or failed to enter information correctly. But in those cases, inspector general staff members concluded that “managers didn’t direct” appointment manipulation; that incorrect appointment scheduling was the result of “unintended errors”; paper wait lists were duplicates of the official list; or a separate database was known to management or employees and therefore “not secret.” In no cases did the inspector general find that the procedures harmed patients or led to delays in care. In her letter to Obama, Lerner said the IG office focused largely on the word “secret” instead of actually reviewing the access-to-care issues raised by VA employees. Lerner’s review of the reports also found evidence that the IG office targeted the whistleblowers who raised concerns about patient wait times. Lerner said IG staff were disinterested in Brooks VA Medical Center social worker Christopher Shea Wilkes’ allegations and that his IG interview was conducted more like a criminal probe into how he obtained the list and whether he shared it with anyone. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., released a statement Friday saying Lerner’s letter demonstrates that the VA rewards “a culture that attacks whistleblowers instead of protecting vets.”

Read More: OIG report verifies allegations at some VA medical facilities

Commentary: Why veterans must oppose Trump (National Review)
John Noonan, retired US Air Force captain & former national-security adviser to Governors Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney: Running scared from a debate hosted by Megyn Kelly in Iowa, Donald Trump instead hosted an Iowa event to, according to his campaign, “raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians.” The $6 million raised went, curiously, straight to Donald Trump’s campaign website — an odd way to fundraise. That money, equally curiously, has yet to find its way to veterans’ groups.  When Donald Trump demanded a $5 million ransom from CNN to appear in their December debate, he also used veterans as a foil. Trump claimed he would donate proceeds to wounded warriors. His interest in veterans is sudden. Forbes reported that of the $5.5 million the Donald J. Trump Foundation gave to charity, “only $57,000 has been donated to seven organizations that directly benefit military veterans or their families.” That’s the rough equivalent of a Ford Expedition. It’s a weak showing for a billionaire who claims to be the champion of America’s service members. America’s veterans aren’t dopes. Most recognize a cheap political stunt when they see it. Debates scare Trump silly. So he wears veterans’ service like Kevlar, hoping the nobility of their sacrifice can shield him from the hostility of tough questions. It’s not unexpected behavior from a man who, to judge from his multiple draft deferments, has proven more than happy to let others do the fighting for him.  The fact is, Trump hasn’t done a damn thing for veterans. But put that aside for a moment.  America’s veterans aren’t looking for handouts. They ask what they can do for the country, not what the country can do for them. So it’s no surprise that Trump thinks they are a demographic purchased as easily as cheap plot of real estate, and treats them as little more than human shields against incoming political fire. When Americans swear an oath to the Constitution, they are not just raising their hand in defense of a scrap of sheepskin. They vow to protect the rights and values enshrined therein. America’s veterans swore to protect the weak against the strong. Trump boasts of being strong but attacks the weak. When veterans took their oath to uphold the Constitution, they swore to uphold freedom of speech and the press. Trump wants to soften libel laws so that when reporters “write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”  Veterans swore to protect religious liberty. Trump signaled openness to a “database” of Americans of Muslim identity, a prospect that would be of little help in the war on terrorism, is clearly unconstitutional, and summons the specter of a dark historical period in Germany. Veterans swore to uphold the law, including treaties such as Geneva Convention and the international Law of Armed Conflict. Trump endorses war crimes such as torture and deliberate bombing of civilians. Veterans swore to uphold domestic laws such as the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits involvement of the U.S. military in law-enforcement matters. Trump declares he would deport 11 million people, a measure that in practice would mean National Guardsmen kicking in doors and rushing families off in the middle of the night. Veterans promise to protect a society that values, above all else, human dignity and the equality of man. Trump uses social media to amplify voices of the white-supremacist movement and has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.  Trump vows to rebuild the military but endorses the unpopular trillion dollars’ worth of Obama-era defense cuts.  Trump pledges to fight ISIS with an intricate strategy of “bomb their oil” and “take their oil” — presumably in that order. He has not elaborated on how many of America’s sons and daughters would be deployed to the Middle East to seize said oil reserves.  Trump promises to “make Mexico pay” for a 2,000-mile border wall, a hypothetical monolith that would cost Mexicans a substantial portion of their GDP. He has not elaborated on the methods of coercion needed to force our third-largest trading partner to surrender a heavy share of its treasury. One wonders whether, when the inevitable trade war fails to produce results, Mr. Trump would consider quarantine, blockade, or violence to make good on his campaign promise. Military members and veterans are taught to honor the service of those who gave all, particularly those who endured years of torture at the hands of the Hanoi government during the Vietnam War. Trump mocks those who were “shot down,” calling his effort to avoid sexually transmitted diseases his “own Vietnam.” While John McCain and other heroes fought the VC, Mr. Trump, as he brags, fought VD.  Veterans should oppose Trump not because he’s used them as cheap political props, and not because he exhibited zero interest in their struggles before they became politically useful to him. Rather, veterans must oppose him because they all took an oath in defense of America, the Constitution, and the values Americans hold dear. Mr. Trump has made a mockery of those values. He must be defeated.

VA employee letter reveals shocking allegations (KITV)
It’s a shocking statement from a man who not only works on the inside, but he was also one of the whistleblowers who got the feds to take a closer look at the Phoenix VA Hospital. “The Phoenix VA, there’s blood on all of our hands at this point,” said Brandon Coleman. This might just be the most disturbing as Coleman has nothing to do with a letter that was addressed to reporter Ashleigh Barry and signed by other concerned employees of the VA health care system. The letter provides veteran names, the dates they committed suicide, the manner of death, and most importantly, how they claim the suicides could have been prevented. The letter cites disturbing details about veteran suicides and the lack of care they received at the Phoenix VA. This is a small sample of the amount of veterans, the dozens and dozens that commit suicide in the Phoenix area every year,” said Coleman after reading the letter. Army Ranger Antouine Castaneda, Airman Andrew Hawley, Marine Sergeant Raul January and Navy veteran Thomas Murphy are four men named in the letter. The letter states that those men took their own lives in 2015. According to the letter, the VA failed to help all of them. In fact, Murphy killed himself in the regional office parking lot to help raise awareness. “There’s no stronger statement that a veteran could make to a failed health care system and total disregard for his needs,” said Coleman. The letter calls for outside agencies to investigate the “full scope of the atrocities committed daily” at the Phoenix VA. The letter contains information only insiders would know and know how to cover it up. “The general public doesn’t know what’s really going on,” said Coleman. This letter was written by staff at the management level who for fear of losing their jobs, asked to remain anonymous. They say they couldn’t just sit back and watch, especially when lives are literally on the line. “There’s so much corruption that runs all the way to the top, it’s like a cancer that needs to be cut out,” Coleman said.

VA takes action against staff members over alleged discriminatory remarks (The Wall Street Journal)
The Department of Veterans Affairs disciplined two judges and proposed action against three staff attorneys after an internal investigation revealed email exchanges that allegedly carried discriminatory remarks. The five staff members at the Board of Veterans Appeals, a VA administrative court in Washington, D.C., that handles appeals over veterans’ claims, were implicated in a “pattern of inappropriate emails that were racist and sexist in tone,” VA officials said. The department said it proposed disciplinary action against the three attorneys in January and has filed a complaint against the two judges. The moves come as the VA has battled criticism in recent years for long backlogs and extended wait times in managing veterans’ health care and disability compensation. The latest action raises questions as to whether appeals from minority veterans received a fair hearing. The VA said it is reviewing cases assessed by the individuals to determine if any decisions were affected. “At this time, we have no indication that any veteran’s appeal was unjustly influenced by their conduct,” the VA said in a statement. Once received by the board, a veteran’s appeals claim is examined by an attorney, who writes it up and recommends a course of action before handing off the files to a judge. The judge reviews the case and determines whether to sign off on the decision. The Board of Appeals decided on 55,532 cases in 2014, the majority of which—95%—were related to compensation claims, according to the VA. An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, the VA’s watchdog, discovered the emails in September and brought the information to the VA, according to the OIG. The VA immediately removed the suspected employees from handling cases, according to the agency. The judges involved were Dennis Chiappetta and James Markey, according to people familiar with the matter. Two of the three attorneys were Bernard DoMinh and Charles Hancock, the people familiar said. The Wall Street Journal was unable to ascertain the name of the third attorney. Mathew Tully, an attorney for Mr. Markey, said the issue is “currently in active litigation.” “In the interest of preserving the objectivity of the administrative process that is charged with deciding this matter, we think it best to allow the legal system to bring an end to the gossip and character assassination…,” Mr. Tully said. Mr. DoMinh didn’t respond to requests for comment. Messrs. Chiappetta and Hancock couldn’t be immediately reached. On Jan. 15, the board’s judges held meetings with their staff to discuss the ramifications of the events, according to a person familiar with the matter. Possible responses proposed by the staffers included redoing hearings to vacating decisions, the person said.

Action demanded after top VA official involved in misconduct is allowed to retire with benefits (WTTV)
Action is being demanded after a top Department of Veterans Affairs official involved in misconduct was allowed to retire with benefits intact. “That’s Washington bureaucratic kind of cover-up stuff and Hoosiers are tired of it,” Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said in an interview with CBS4. Jack Hetrick oversaw the care of more than 500,000 veterans in parts of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as the network regional director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 10. The VA was investigating Hetrick for his management of the VA medical Center in Cincinnati, and last week the investigation revealed misconduct by Hetrick, along with the center’s chief of staff. VA officials recommended Hetrick be removed from his position, but he was allowed to retire. “This is part of the problem that we’ve been talking about with no accountability with the VA,” Walorski said. “That you can actually be involved in all kinds of wrongdoing, enough wrongdoing to actually be dismissed from your job and have all your authority taken away. But then they let you retire with all your benefits. And don’t forget these are tax dollars.” Those federal benefits include social security, annuity and a thrift savings plan, which is somewhat similar to a 401K in the private sector. “Frankly I think it’s outrageous he was allowed to retire,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) said. Walorski, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said last summer lawmakers proposed giving greater authority to the VA to fire bad executives. The measure, though, has stalled in the Senate. … Congressman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) wants to go even further. He’s drafting legislation that would classify all federal government employees as “at will,” which would give greater authority to either fire or reward federal employees immediately. “This goes back to something that’s a foundational problem in the federal government,” he said. “And that is we cannot fire people when they do bad things.” Rokita, who called the proposal “radical” knows this type of sweeping legislation will be a tough sell. … Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) will receive a briefing on the Cincinnati investigation Wednesday, along with other VA-related issues. Messer said he will press officials to ensure the transition to a new network regional director, overseeing hundreds-of-thousands of veterans, will not impact care.

Commentary: Fairness to veterans: Time for the Senate to act (The Hill)
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and Dale Barnett, National Commander of the American Legion: Each year, more than 250,000 Post-9/11 veterans are returning home and transitioning into civilian life after service and continue to serve as leaders in our communities and our economy. In fact, one-quarter of this new generation of veterans are interested in starting or buying their own business, demonstrating the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that makes America work. To support these heroic individuals and put their unique skills and commitment to best use, the federal government has a role to play in empowering them to succeed in the private sector – especially in terms of federal contracting. And a number of agencies do – including the Veterans Administration, which engages with veteran-owned small businesses and sees the benefits of increased veteran involvement. However, these veteran businesses won’t be talking about rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure through competing for federal contracts, because the Department of Transportation’s Small Business Contracting Program doesn’t put veteran small businesses on a level-playing field when competing for contracts. That’s a real problem of missed opportunities for veteran-owned businesses, and missed opportunities to put veteran-owned firms on the front lines in our battle to rebuild our infrastructure. The undeniable fact is that today some companies get a preference when doing business with the government transportation agencies while veterans do not. We know 10-percent of federally funded infrastructure projects are set aside for certain small businesses, but our veterans are excluded from competing at all. That’s not fair. That’s why I, Rep. Ftizpatrick,  have introduced, and the House passed, the bipartisan Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act: a simple, yet powerful, update to current law. This measure allows Veteran-Owned Small Businesses to compete in an existing infrastructure small business program known as the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program.  This straightforward legislation is critical to both the shared goals of creating and sustaining jobs for our veterans and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. Connecting veteran-owned businesses to the contracting power of the federal government opens the door for increased production, the hiring of additional staff – often times veterans themselves – and opens doors to national opportunities. Fairness to Veterans would level the playing field for more than 380,000 veteran-owned construction firms across the nation. And it’s not just construction firm that will benefit. In fact, there are a variety of industries involved, such as personnel, admin, engineering, landscaping, utilities and IT, so this is an issue that affects all veteran-owned small businesses. Our veterans are the most highly skilled workforce in America’s history – the product of rigorous training, an ironclad commitment to teamwork and the remarkable ability to succeed where others might fail. And so as veterans transition out of service and back home, we know they’re ready to help rebuild our infrastructure across the country. Veteran owned businesses in states like California, Texas, New York, and Georgia, the states with the most veteran owned firms in the nation, are waiting for this opportunity.  Veteran small businesses in South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama, states with the highest per capita veteran business population, want a fair shot at transportation contracts. And what is also clear is that veteran owned businesses in every single state stand to benefit from a level playing field if Congress is willing to fight for them. Due to the positive impact of this bill the 2.3 million members of the American Legion support it. And why a bipartisan super-majority of the House of Representatives supports it. Now it’s time for the Senate to take action. We cannot in good conscience continue to stand idle while our veterans are precluded from this federal program. The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act is a ‘no cost to the tax-payer’ update of existing legislation that redresses the exclusion of veteran small businesses when the framework of the DBE program was originally drafted.  This Congress recently passed a highway bill that authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure projects. That money is getting ready to be spent in every single state. We can’t let veterans be left behind. Let’s salute all our veteran-owned small businesses and empower them to rebuild America by taking up the Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act in the Senate and sending it to the president’s desk as soon as possible.

Discipline for VA nurse could be months away (Standard Speaker)
The disciplinary process for a nurse accused of assisting a surgery while under the influence of alcohol could take more than nine months, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials have reported. In an email to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, VA officials outlined a disciplinary process that would take at least 270 days if the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township decides to fire Richard Pieri. Pieri, 59, of Drums, was charged with recklessly endangering another person, driving under the influence and other counts after police said he assisted a Feb. 4 surgery after consuming between four and five beers at the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino earlier that evening. The medical center initiated disciplinary action against Pieri on Monday. The VA’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs responded by email to a letter from committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida,who asked why Pieri had not been fired after the charges were filed. According to the email, once the VA’s Disciplinary Appeals Board begins the process for a “major adverse action” — including suspension, transfer or discharge — the agency must obtain all evidence relating to the alleged misconduct such as witness statements and videotapes. The human resources office then drafts a proposal notice which is reviewed by district counsel before it is issued to the employee. Full-time employees must receive 30 days advance notice and part-time employees must receive 14 days notice of the proposed disciplinary action, according to the email. “The minimum amount of time it takes is 270 days from the date of issuance of the proposed major adverse action; but it takes time to gather the evidence and write the proposal notice prior to its issuance,” the email reads. The employee also has between seven and 30 days to submit a written or oral reply to the notice. A written decision should be issued within 21 days of the employee’s reply, VA officials said. After receiving the decision, the employee has 30 days to file an appeal with the VA central office which starts an appeals process that could last 210 days. Responding to the email in a statement Tuesday, Miller called the VA’s extended disciplinary process part of a “depressing saga” of a “federal service system designed to coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent employees.” Miller had inquired about the shortest amount of time the process to discipline Pieri could take. “It will take nearly a year to discipline Pieri for something he’s already admitted to,” Miller said. “Enough is enough.” According to the charges against Pieri, police learned of the incident Feb. 11 when a nurse executive reported Pieri smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech when he showed up for the surgery. Pieri proceeded to participate in emergency surgery that lasted into the next morning, police said. Surveillance footage shows Pieri getting out of his pickup and staggering on his way to the hospital door, according to police. Pieri appears to almost fall and walks into a large concrete barrier, police said.

Sharon Helman, ex-Phoenix VA hospital director, pleads guilty (AZCentral)
Sharon Helman, the former Phoenix VA Health Care System director who was fired in 2014 amid a scandal over patient care, pleaded guilty Tuesday to filing a false financial disclosure that failed to list more than $50,000 in gifts she had received from a lobbyist. A conviction for that crime carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, but terms of a plea agreement call for Helman to receive probation with no time behind bars. Helman oversaw the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix from 2012-14, when whistleblowers disclosed to Congress and The Arizona Republic that veterans seeking appointments faced delays of up to a year, and that some had died while on secret wait lists. Subsequent investigations verified that the VA in Phoenix and at hospitals nationwide had “cooked the books,” manipulating wait-time data. The revelations led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, as well as nationwide audits, congressional reviews and a $16 billion reform bill. Neither Helman nor her attorneys could be reached immediately for comment on her plea. Helman, who denied that patient-scheduling data had been falsified, was fired by the VA over the wait-time issue, for alleged retaliation against whistleblowers, and for failing to report the lobbyist gifts. Her termination on the first two allegations was overturned by a judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board, but the final charge was upheld. The gifts were provided by Dennis “Max” Lewis, a former Veterans Health Administration administrator who had been Helman’s boss before he became a private consultant. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Helman failed to report $19,300 worth of gifts in 2013, including an automobile, a check for $5,000 and tickets to a Beyonce concert. In 2014, prosecutors said, Helman failed to disclose another $27,700 in perks. That included family tickets to Disneyland. Helman was not charged with unlawfully accepting the gifts, but failing to provide the VA with required information to evaluate a potential conflict of interest. Lewis, then vice president at Jefferson Consulting Group, was terminated by his employer when the controversy became public in late 2014. Jefferson represented major health-care companies seeking business with the VA. Phoenix FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Cwynar said, “Although this plea agreement calls for a term of probation, making a false financial disclosure to the federal government is a felony and will permanently attach to Ms. Helman’s record.” Michael Seitler of the VA’s Office of Inspector General added, “This prosecution holds Ms. Helman accountable. We hope it will deter any other government executives who may be tempted to conceal this type of information.” Paula Pedine, a Phoenix VA whistleblower, described the entire VA care crisis and scandal as “a sad situation that I wish never occurred.” But she added, “I believe this is the beginning of accountability that needs to take place.”

Veterans address officials at Tomah VA town hall (WXOW)
Veterans who use the Tomah VA Medical Center for their health care had the chance to take their concerns straight to the top officials Tuesday night. The Department of Veterans Affairs held a town hall forum. It’s all part of an attempt to rebuild a facility that’s come under great scrutiny over the last year, primarily due to the prescription drug scandal and retaliation against those who complained. With over 50 veterans in attendance, a recurring concern among a number of vets was problems with the VA Choice Program. That program allows veterans already enrolled in VA heath care to receive care within their community without having to travel to a VA facility. They must either live over 40 miles away or have been waiting for VA care for more than 30 days. Veterans expressed frustration with the Choice Program’s paperwork problems and month long waits before they could even schedule an appointment. Younger veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan also expressed concerns about not feeling welcome at the VA. “When I went to Iraq and Afghanistan they taught me the local language, they taught me the customs, they taught me to communicate with someone that I may not know the experiences of,” Catherine Threat said. “The biggest problem I have with the VA or any medical center right now is they don’t really know how to communicate. You know, figure out my language,” Threat served in Iraq in 2010 and in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. She now receives medical care at the VA. But not everyone was dissatisfied with their experience at Tomah VA. A number of veterans expressed gratitude, saying they were pleased with their years of service. “This VA has some good quality care and I know what was happening in the past they are trying to rebound from that and hopefully they can do that,” Tom Flock, Navy Vet and Tomah VA Outpatient said. VA Acting Director Victoria Brahm attempted to answer every question Tuesday night. She’s vowed to get back to every single veteran that has expressed concern. She said change won’t happen overnight. “Culture, we’re changing culture. So culture takes two to five years to change fully. We’re already seeing this amazingly in 100 days. We are seeing satisfaction results. We are seeing a support from veterans that is amazing,” Brahm said. Brahm added the VA still has a long way to go. She took over as Acting Director in October. Her goal is to rebuild a foundation and team of leaders. While it may not happen overnight, Brahm said she’s already beginning to see change.

Minneapolis VA cleared in three cases of alleged manipulation of patient appointments, wait times (Star Tribune)
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital has been cleared in three cases where it was alleged to have manipulated patient appointments and wait times. The results of the three Minnesota cases were part of a massive release Monday of summaries of wait-time investigations nationwide by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general, the VA’s internal independent watchdog. In the first case, the inspector general found no evidence backing two fired employees of the hospital’s Gastroenterology Clinic, who said they were instructed by management to cancel appointments and alter records. The former VA employees told their story to KARE-TV, saying that they were pressured to falsify patient appointment dates and medical records to hide delays, sparking the investigation. In some cases, they told the station, employees were instructed to falsify medical records by writing that patients had declined follow-up treatments even though the veterans had never been contacted. But current employees told investigators there was no manipulation of scheduling and that they were never instructed to falsify information, the inspector general said. Investigators interviewed more than two dozen employees and reviewed more than 21,000 e-mails, but found no evidence the allegations could be substantiated. Investigators also could find no evidence of claims by the former employees that they had informed managers of their concerns. In the second case, the inspector general reviewed allegations, also broadcast on KARE-TV, that data was manipulated to show an appointment was canceled after a veteran’s death in 2012. Investigators found records showing the veteran made a cellphone call on the morning before his death to cancel the appointment and that a notification of his call was transmitted by an automated call system to a schedulers’ e-mail group the next morning, leaving the false impression that the call had been made the day of his death. Three VA employees located the original note indicating the veteran had called before his death, the inspector general said. The third case involved allegations in a “hot line call” that the dental staff was “strongly advised” to falsely report wait times. Investigators said the employee who made the call was unable to provide specific examples or evidence to corroborate his allegation. “We very much appreciate the release of the reports by [the inspector general] and the confirmation of no wrongdoing on the part of our employees,” Minneapolis VA Health Care System Director Patrick Kelly said in a written statement “We will continue to provide the excellent quality of care to our nation’s veterans.” The VA’s inspector general has yet to release findings in another investigation into alleged misconduct at a Hibbing VA outpatient clinic. Numerous former clinic workers have claimed they were ordered to manipulate the schedules for veterans’ appointments to make it appear they were being seen within their desired appointment date when they were actually being seen as much as six to eight weeks out.

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