Wyoming’s congressional delegation fired off a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Thursday, asking for explanations about scheduling practices at the VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Cheyenne VA Medical Center.

“After hearing from constituents in our state and reading media reports, it is clear that veterans across our country are not receiving the care they deserve,” said the letter, signed Republicans Sen. Mike Enzi, Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis. “It appears your Department has spent more time covering its own failures than delivering high-quality, prompt care to the men and women who bravely served our country.”

On May 9, Shinseki placed a Cheyenne VA nurse on administrative leave after an email surfaced that instructed VA employees to make it appear patients were getting scheduled medical appointments within 14 days of calling, a VA guideline, according to the USA Today, which published a copy of the email online.

“Yes, it is gaming the system a bit," said the e-mail from the nurse. "But you have to know the rules of the game you are playing, and when we exceed the 14-day measure, the front office gets very upset."

In December, a VA investigation found the Fort Collins VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, which is part of the Cheyenne VA center, were also trained to make it look like veterans got appointments in 14 days. The VA put forth a plan of action to address the problems.

It’s unknown whether any of the delays in medical care in Cheyenne or Fort Collins resulted in any veteran’s death. Nationwide, USA Today and CNN have reported at least 23 veterans have died in the past three or four years in part because of delays.

Dr. Cynthia McCormack, director of the Cheyenne VA, sent letters to the Wyoming delegation outlining how problems would be corrected. “There was no intent or attempt to manipulate wait times,” the delegation’s letter quoted McCormack as writing. The delegation received the letters May 2. Days later, Fox News, CNN and USA Today reported on the “gaming the system” email.

“It was only after this statement was widely reported in the media that the VA took any disciplinary action against the employee,” the congressional delegation’s letter states.

The Wyoming delegation wants to know names of any other people who instructed VA employees to change scheduling. They also want to know the number of vets who were affected by scheduling practices in Cheyenne.

Daniel Warvi, a VA spokesman, said he could not comment on the Cheyenne hospital scheduling, beyond confirming an employee was put on leave. He said VA inspectors arrived in Cheyenne on Monday and are looking into the matter.

“They will be giving the director of the hospital a preliminary report on Friday,” he said.

After the December investigation in Fort Collins, supervisors and employees were extensively trained and audits are done weekly to ensure scheduling is properly done, he said.

At the Sheridan VA Health Care System, three VA employees from Washington, D.C., inspected records all day Wednesday and found no scheduling problems at the main hospital, said Jackie VanMark, the hospital’s public affairs director.

The Sheridan VA covers the majority of Wyoming, about 13,000 veterans at the hospital and clinics or at clinics in Casper, Powell, Gillette, Afton, Worland, Evanston, Riverton and Rock Springs, VanMark said.

The Cheyenne VA covers parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and northern Colorado. The number of patients who receive health care through the Cheyenne center was unknown.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

(10) comments

Dewd

There is a gross hypocrisy on this issue of Veterans care going off the rails and Congress suddenly weighing in.

Since when did Republicans in Congress ( other than a few notables such as John McCain) start caring about veterans ? Have they put their money where their mumbling mouths are withr espect to the VA ? Hardly. The GOP loves active duty soldiers, supports the troops, and certainly goes out of their way to provide plenty of Pentagon funding . Congress even rises to the occasion to provide the wars to give our troops some real world battle experieince. But veterans? Once those soldiers come home and leave the service, the GOP all but turns their back on them. Won't fund their care, won't sign off on retraining or jobs bills. Nada. They did it again this week.

The VA issue has a lot of Congress complicity in it. So please Barrasso , Enzi, and Lummis... don't try to deflect the issue. if there's a problem at the VA, take your share of the blame for it. We are not fooled by your rhetoric.

IdrahaJe

I saw this on the national news first, and was horrified that it was happening at all. and more so that it was happening here in WY. I don't always agree with the actions of our government, on either side. The people I respect the most are this countries vets. You put your lives in harm's way, and now you might die because of some scandal involving the one place that you should feel safe seeking treatment from???

I am FURIOUS. Sage 52, Side Oiler, and anyone else that's a veteran, what can I do to help? I'm sure the first response is "vote this way", or "vote that way." Is there anything else I can do? Yes, I am serious, absolutely serious. I may disagree with you vehemently about certain things, but that doesn't mean that I don't respect and honor the sacrifices made by each of you. I am so sorry to hear that this is happening.

I am usually always home, I have a phone, fax, and computer with a printer and scanner. If I can do anything to be of service to you that have risked your lives to serve me, please let me know. I'll park my 450 pound chair on some clowns desk if I have to.

ChesterIII

I have to agree with Dewd: the Republican hypocrisy on display in this matter is galling.

If the staff at a VA hospital are gaming the system and documenting appointments and wait times that aren't happening, in order to avoid the ire of the front office, then we know the front office (the Obama appointees) is pressuring them to do things right. If they are not getting the patients in to be treated, and they need to resort to gaming the records, that situation results from understaffing and inadequate budgets.

Unless you live under a rock, it is clear who in Washington constantly tries to ratchet down budgets and staffing in federal agencies: Republicans do. They want to reduce the cost of government so they can push through yet another tax cut for the rich. This whole scandal lies at the feet of the very Republican politicians who are now scurrying to find a way to blame it on the Democrats.

From what I can see, the Democrats whose administration is currently running these hospitals recognized a problem, put a system in place to track appointment wait times, and they put pressure on the staff to get patients in for appointments faster. I just don't see anything the high level staff did wrong. The low level staff did what they had to do to work within their too-small budget and TRY to please the boss.

I just don't have any patience for Republican politicians who create budget messes in government and then try to blame the dysfunction on the very people who are trying to make government work correctly. A pox on their house.

pappy

The VA just needs to go away. There is no reason in this day and age that our veterans shouldn't be able to be treated at local medical care facilities for most of their issues. Why do they have to wait months to see a Dr. and then only if they are willing to drive miles. This has turned into a huge bureaucracy that no one has control of. This is socialized medicine at it's worst, and we should work to get out of it. We should continue to pay for veterans medical needs but not have the VA hospitals, and everything that goes with them. They have wasted billions on a new computer system that doesn't work and have facilities that haven't had routine maintenance forever. No matter what party you are in our veterans shouldn't be treated this way.

rigrat
rigrat

All comments so far are spot on,no argument there.Call it what you like,but certain vets have been shafted over the years more than others,with Vietnam vets at the top of the list.Bush,Cheney,Rummy and scores of others,including many Democrats had no idea what sort of mess they were creating for post Iraq and Afghan vets when they instigated their dirty little war against evil in the ME.I have said it more than once,there should be no POTUS who has never been in combat,we have seen what this means since 2000.As for VA care,I say do away with it and give vets voucher cards to use at their own chosen Doctor,it worked in Alaska for many years before they got a VA hospital.

commonsnese

Our Vets deserve more than our delegation deserves.

Pioneerpete

The VA is dealing with problems originating over a long time, and from a variety of poor decisions from Washington on down to local clinics. Fifteen years ago, the VA made an effort to register and classify all veterans. One of the first pitfalls encountered was a failure to integrate VA and Medicare coverage. At that time, this was a critical need, since there was no Medicare Part D. Vets had to join into the VA program in order to get coverage for expensive drugs. Then, with the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations, military retirees were dumped upon the VA when service hospitals were forced to curtail services. Congress, with ordinary responses to extraordinary circumstances focused upon military spending without consideration of the physical and mental losses that come from extended wartime conditions. Our congressional delegation was not even in agreement that our ground forces body armor, let alone pay attention to health care. Meanwhile, the VA was chugging along with a model that had difficulty adapting to to peacetime conditions of an aging veteran population. When General Shenseki took over the agency, one of his first priorities was to provide services to a large number of Vietnam vets who had longstanding claims related to Agent Orange. With the military attempting to deal with PTSD as a discipline matter, the VA was flooded with a surge of demands upon its mental health facilities. Considering that the VA is dependent upon the military to establish eligibility for VA services, this was another blow on our veteran's efforts to obtain needed medical services. With the economy tanking, the austerity crowd would make personnel cuts, freezes, and termination of services the vocabulary of the day. Is it really surprising that the VA is compromised, and beset by the problems of the moment? Around here, there are cheers when government fails. Indignation and anger are appropriate responses; problem solving seems to beyond contemporary thought. A public that has been apathetic to the trends identified above, politicians who have a different set of priorities than when a broad representation of citizens went to war and came home, the bureaucracy which adapts to pressure until crisis prevails......there is enough blame to go around without manufacturing another partisan battle in our never-ending election cycle.

LVHS77

Obama bragged he was going to help veterans to get elected. He kept his promise. He helped many of us die much younger than we should have. He has helped us learn to wait months for care. Veterans should get the best medical care of anyone in the USA.
The V.A. under the obama regime is the worst that I have ever seen in the care of Veterans. I have been a patent of the V.A. since 1987. With 0bama, and harry ried control things the V.A. is being destroyed. Thank God for the Wyoming delegation. They truly care about Veterans. Too bad democrats only care about killing Veterans off before our time.

Todd

It should be abundantly clear that the federal government cannot do much of anything effectively....except raise money to keep themselves in their cushy jobs forever. Unfortunately instead of our vets being given access to the same care everyone else has enjoyed, with Obama care we are all going to get the same care the vets are now getting, which is virtually none. Real progress....NOT! Even so giving them access to their choice of medical care would be a step in the right direction. Close VA hospitals as VA and sell them to private hospitals, and an access card for necessary treatment.

Pioneerpete

Consider that veteran approval of the medical services at VA facilities runs at about 95%. How many vets would appreciate an "access card" to a private facility in Todd's never-never land of political medicine?

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