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Veterans Affairs Health Care Scandal Comes to Houston

by: Emily Cadik

Tue May 27, 2014 at 01:00 PM CDT

The Veterans Affairs scandal that has been spreading across the country in recent weeks has now popped up in Houston. According to the Houston Chronicle, a complaint filed with the VA's Office of Inspector General hotline alleges that officials at the VA Medical Center in Houston pressured clerks to fudge the books to conceal long wait times to see a doctor.

"Patients in need of a hearing evaluation are having to wait a minimum of 4-6 weeks to be seen in the Houston VA Medical Center audiology clinic," according to the complaint. "Scheduling clerks have been directed to change the patient's desired date to the available date so that the facility's wait times meet the national directive." Though the complaint was filed in December, according to sources the practice is still occurring.

There's more after the jump.

The complaints are similar to ones filed in Austin, San Antonio, Waco and other VA medical centers around the country. The common issues are the long wait times for veterans to get medical appointments, and the falsification of records to mask the issue. In some places, veterans have died while waiting for care. The VA Inspector General is now investigating 26 facilities, up from 10 two weeks ago, though they will not disclose which medical centers are under investigation.

Officials at the Houston VA Medical Center are denying that the allegations are true at their facility. "To the best of our knowledge, gaming strategies have not occurred at the Houston VAMC," said Maureen Dyman, the center's communications director. "A few weeks ago, the medical center director and associate director met with all schedulers over the course of a week to verify their knowledge and reiterated that they are to be honest and straightforward when scheduling patients."

According to Dyman, over 96 percent of all patients at the Houston VA medical center are seen within 14 days - which is the guideline for the maximum amount of time that it's supposed to take. However, according to multiple sources, the practice involves recording that a veteran's "desired appointment date" is the first date that's actually available, regardless of when that is when the veteran wants to be seen. In same cases, it was as far as 3 months out.

President Obama has taken a firm stance against the practice, saying, "If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period. Once we know the facts, I assure you if there is misconduct it will be punished." Multiple VA officials have already resigned, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will be providing a preliminary review of the issue soon.

It's worth noting that expanding Medicaid in Texas would have provided affordable health care to 49,000 veterans.  Aside from the unreasonable wait times many veterans face in the VA system, many are not eligible for medical benefits through the VA.

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