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.