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Email reveals deliberate effort by VA hospital to hide long patient waits

By Jennifer Janisch / CBS News 5:37 PM May 9, 2014

A Veterans Affairs employee at the VA Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been placed on administrative leave after CBS News obtained an email showing an employee directing his staff on how to game the appointments system to make it appear as though veterans were being seen within the VA’s 14-day directive.

The email, written by Telehealth Coordinator David Newman, a registered nurse, describes how patients at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center are always listed getting appointments within a 14-day window, no matter when the appointment was first requested, and no matter how long the patient actually waited.The memo admitted, “Yes, this is gaming the system a bit…” because “when we exceed the 14 day measure, the front office gets very upset, which doesn’t help us.”

The employee further instructs staff on how to “get off the bad boys list” by “cancelling the visit (by clinic) and then rescheduling it with a desired date within that 14 day window.”

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki made the following statement in response to an inquiry by CBS News:

“On May 9, upon learning of an email sent by a Cheyenne VA Medical Center employee, I immediately requested the independent VA Office of Inspector General conduct a thorough investigation of the actions outlined in the employee’s email. I have also directed that the employee be removed immediately from patient care responsibilities and placed on administrative leave. VA takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously. If true, the behavior outlined in the email is unacceptable.”

However, CBS News has learned that the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector had already investigated and substantiated claims of improper scheduling practices at the Cheyenne VAMC, sending a report to the Office of Special Counsel on December 23, 2013. It is unclear why it took five months, and an inquiry by CBS News, for the VA to take action against an employee there and order an Inspector General’s investigation.

Friday’s developments come a day after Shinseki directed his agency to complete a nationwide review of clinics at VA Medical Centers across the country to assess veterans’ access to care.

CBS News’ Wyatt Andrews contributed to this report.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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