Audit Reveals Rochester VA Staff Felt Pressure to Manipulate Appointment Data

Created: 07/31/2014 11:02 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- A veterans affairs audit finds staff at multiple VA hospitals say they received instructions from supervisors to falsify data, including in our area.

Internal VA documents show staff at Rochester’s Veterans Affairs Clinic felt pressure to manipulate appointment data. Representative Tim Walz (D-Minn.) calls the findings "troubling, but not shocking."

"I’ve been out there times when the lobby is plum full of people,” said Vietnam Veteran Terry Ellerman. He isn't new to the VA health care system. "Recently I got two hearing aids,” he said.  

Terry goes to the VA clinic in Minneapolis and here in Rochester. He says his wait time of 6 to 8 months for a hearing aid doesn't seem so bad compared to others. "They try their best because they're so backlogged,” said Ellerman.

Rochester and Minneapolis are among 112 VA clinics nationwide flagged for "further review and investigation" in an internal audit of the system's wait times back in June. Now we find out the depth of the health care scandal in our area.

New findings show nearly 12% of Minneapolis VA Health System employees surveyed said they received instruction to enter an appointment date other than the date a veteran asked to be seen. Results show staff at the Rochester clinic were "encouraged and felt pressure to manipulate desired date in order to meet performance measures."

The news isn't a surprise to Congressman Tim Walz. "The audit information is troubling, but not shocking given the culture we've uncovered at VA in recent months and the pressure to hit unrealistic wait-time goals,” said Rep. Tim Walz in a statement.

Rep. Walz points to the 16.3 billion dollar bill passed Thursday aimed at hiring more doctors and letting veterans get care from a local doctor instead of the VA. Many, including Terry Ellerman see that as a step in the right direction. “They need more manpower out there,” said Ellerman.

We reached out to the Rochester clinic and the regional director of VA health care. They released a statement saying, “We are aware that the Rochester Clinic has been identified for further review of their scheduling practices. We welcome this additional review, and if scheduling knowledge or integrity issues are validated, the opportunity to improve our scheduling practices. We place a high value on integrity and will use this as an opportunity to provide even better service to Veteran,” said Patrick Kelly, Director of Minneapolis VA Health Care System.