'Gaming the System': Email reveals how Wyo. VA workers were taught to manipulate records

An email obtained by Fox News Friday revealed that an employee at a Wyoming VA hospital instructed his workers to manipulate records to make it seem like patients were being seen within the agency’s required 14-day window, which he described as “gaming the system.”

Fox News has learned that the VA was informed of dubious scheduling practices at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and at a community-based outpatient clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is part of the Wyoming center, through an internal investigation in December 2013. The problems at and the investigation into the Fort Collins clinic were reported earlier this week.

However, the VA took no formal disciplinary action and did not order an independent probe into the matter until Friday, when Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said he learned of the email.

Now Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is questioning why if the VA learned there were problems in December, the agency is only taking action now. He said Shinseki’s actions are “faux outrage at its finest.”

The June email signed by an employee named David Newman, a Telehealth coordinator at the Cheyenne center, describes to the workers methods they can use to manipulate records in the patient appointment system to comply with a VA policy that requires patients be seen within 14 days of their desired date of appointment.

"Yes, it is gaming the system a bit," the email reads. "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."

Shinseki said in a statement that after he learned of the email on Friday, he ordered the employee who wrote it placed on administrative leave. He said he also ordered the VA’s independent inspector general to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.

“VA takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously.  If true, the behavior outlined in the email is unacceptable,” Shinseki said.

Miller said that the VA has known about falsified records at the Fort Collins clinic, which he notes is part of the Wyoming center, since last year.

“And yet, until today, department officials had not taken any steps whatsoever to discipline any employees or request an independent investigation – nor did they plan to do so,” he said. “Today’s announcement from Sec. Shinseki that he has placed a Cheyenne VAMC employee on paid leave and asked the inspector general to investigate appears to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to tough media questions than anything else.”

In response to the problems in Colorado, Denver VA spokesman Daniel Warvi told the Associated Press earlier this week that employees have been retrained and weekly audits are being conducted. He said no one was disciplined because the investigation found no deliberate misconduct, calling it a “training issue.”

The falsification of records is only one of the scandals engulfing the VA. The American Legion and some in Congress have called for Shinseki's ouster following allegations of 40 patient deaths at the Phoenix VA hospital due to delays in care, and of a secret list the hospital kept of patients waiting for appointments to hide the delays.

The White House has voiced support for Shinseki and he has brushed off calls to resign.

On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to subpoena all emails and other records in which Shinseki and other VA officials may have discussed destruction of what the committee called "an alternate or interim waitlist" for veterans seeking care in Phoenix.

The Associated Press contributed to this report