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Audit from 2012 found VA clinics had been warned ‘not to game the system’

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Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks during a news conference at the VA Medical Center in Washington, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) release the results from its Nationwide Access Audit, along with facility level patient access data for all Veterans health facilities. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A 2012 audit accused Department of Veterans Affairs clinical offices in Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas of routinely canceling appointments in blocks to manipulate wait times despite a nationwide directive from top VA officials “not to game the system.”

According to the Arizona Republic, the disturbing audit also charged that VA employees at 3,400 clinics in the three states often recorded walk-in patients as scheduled visits to make it appear ailing veterans were being seen without any wait time at all, when, in fact, the reason they were there at all was because they couldn’t schedule an appointment.

The VA scandal over manipulated wait times has led to explosive hearings on Capitol Hill and the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The paper disclosed the audit's findings in a story Sunday. The newspaper said it obtained the audit by the VA’s Southwest Health Care Network through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The newspaper said wait times were being manipulated even though VA clinics nationwide had been put on notice in 2010 not to falsify wait-time data. The newspaper cited the audit as saying that in a September 2011 conference call former VA Undersecretary Robert Petzel instructed department executives “not to ‘game’ the system.” Petzel resigned under fire in May.

The audit found that in the second quarter of 2011 Southwest network clinics were canceling appointments in blocks and then blaming the cancellations on patients to eliminate backlogs and reduce wait-time statistics.

Auditors also found that when it came to the walk-in patients, the Phoenix VA was a big offender, improperly listing walk-ins as scheduled appointments 77 percent of the time.

The audit recommended changes and a VA regional spokeswoman told the newspaper an action plan was developed. 

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., told The Arizona Republic the new revelations offer “continued proof of how VA leaders looked the other way while bureaucrats lied, cheated and put the health of veterans they were supposed to be serving at risk. Most disturbingly, those charged with enforcing VA policies and holding employees accountable for gaming the system never lifted a finger to do so.”

Click for the story from The Arizona Republic.