July 2nd, 2010
11:21 AM ET

Vets' care hurt by bureaucratic games, memo says

Military veterans are being denied health care due to "inappropriate scheduling practices" at VA facilities, according to an internal memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The memo, written on April 26, says employees at various VA facilities often canceled veterans' appointments with doctors in order to generate better performance scores in reports to supervisors.

"In order to improve scores on assorted access measures, certain facilities have adopted use of inappropriate scheduling practices sometimes referred to as 'gaming strategies,'" the memo says.

"Example: as a way to combat Missed Opportunity rates some medical centers cancel appointments for patients not checked in 10 or 15 minutes prior to their scheduled appointment time. Patients are informed that it is medical center policy that they must check in early and if they fail to do so, it is the medical center's right to cancel that appointment."

"This is not patient centered care," the memo says. "These (and other) practices will not be tolerated."

The memo was written by William Schoenhard, deputy under secretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Schoenhard told CNN he had no personal knowledge of any VA facility using the inappropriate scheduling practices, but issued the memo to avoid future problems.

"This is a proactive step to set the tone that there will be zero tolerance for any unfair scheduling practices," he said.

"When I send out a memo like this, it is my expectation going forward that the facilities would seriously consider what practices are in place for scheduling veterans for appointments and ensure all we do in the future is 'veteran centric.'"

"We will have no tolerance for anything that causes the veterans inconvenience," Schoenhard asserted. The memo outlines more than 20 practices Schoenhard said VA schedulers must avoid.

Paul Sullivan, from the group Veterans for Common Sense, told CNN the memo is "absolutely" symptomatic of a nationwide problem with the VA. "It's tragic (and) beyond unacceptable," he said. If VA employees are "cooking the books, (they) need to find another job."

Roughly one in four veterans currently has to wait over a month to see a VA doctor, Sullivan said.

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Filed under: Military • U.S. • Veterans
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Vet

    VA health is horrible. Always has been and always will be.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • connie brookins

      I HAVE BROTHER THAT WENT IN TO THE VA HOSPITAL IN LEXINGTON, KY IN NOV 2009, FOR A KNEE REPLACEMENT . HE HAS BENE THERE EVERY SINCE. FIRST THEY PLACE A KNEE THAT DID NOT FIT. THEN HE CAME DOWN WITH MRSA AND NOW A STAPH INFECTION. WENT TO PATIENT ADVOCATE TO COMPLAIN, THINGS BEGAN TO MOVE. NOW THEY ARE SAYING THAT THE NERVES IN HIS NECK ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE NERVES IN HIS LEGS. SO THEREFORE HE IS IN A WHEEL CHAIR , NOT ABLE TO STAND OR WALK. PRESENTINGLY HE IS AT LEESTOWN REHAB CENTER UNTIL THEY DECIDED TO DO EITHER KNEE SURGERY OF NECK SURGERY. PRAYERFUL HE WILL BE ABLE TO WALK AGAIN. RIGHT NOW I NEED SOME HELP FROM A PROF TO TELL ME WHAT MY NEXT MOVE IS TO GET HELP FOR MY BROTHER. THIS IS A MAN WHO WALKED INTO THE VA, AND MAYBE SENT OUT IN A WHEEL CHAIR.

      July 2, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vet

      Connie, so sorry to hear about your brother. I am a retired vet with 50% disability and as such I am authorized free care at VA hospitals. I have never had to go and pray I never have to. It would be my worst nightmare come true. I have vet friends that I have heard many horror stories from. How the people that run these places get away with it I will never know...nobody seems to care. I think people need to start suing the gov't for malpractice when these things happen to them.

      July 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. USAF-Ret

    The only medical care as bad as the VA is TRICARE. Just try getting an appointment with a GOOD doctor or specialist with that insurance! It won't happen. Only mediocre doctors at best will take it. And don't get me started on DELTA DENTAL!!!! It's absolutely horrible.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JT

    One also needs to look at the VAOIG reports from 1997 and 2009 to see that this has been going on for a number of years, see Report No. 08-01392-144 June 25, 2009 and Report No. 7R1-A02-114, Date: August 6, 1997

    July 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dee

      Jt. what site has these reports?
      thanks
      Dee

      July 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Phil

    The VA gave a vet friend false teeth, they were so big he couldn't open his mouth to eat.
    I've been following these VA screw-ups and infection risks for some time now and e-mailed them to other vets, so I still have copies and I posted the links in the comments section on an earlier CNN Vet story a few days ago.
    Try not to get sick or hurt and hold out going if you do, wait until after the clinic closes or on the weekend and head to your local emergency room, they will bill the VA!

    July 5, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dee

      Phil, where did you come across infectionrated for varios vs hospitals? ie MRSA etc.

      July 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jim B

    This is what you get from a bureaucracy. They establish "best practices" and use phony tweaked numbers to meet them. It becomes a game of making the numbers look good as opposed to focusing on the patient. It's a preview of Obamacare

    July 5, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. jerry

    We need to do a lot better for our veterans I am a veteran I use the Va hospital. The veteran is not first there its the VA
    empolyee first. When you go to the Va you are somewhat at war, they are all looking to score points on you and if you have a service connected disability they are always looking to disconnect it.They change your medical records so they
    read that you are getting better when you have a disability that will never get better. Lets not blame the Congress or the
    President , Lets just ask them to go to the Va and talk with the veterans and get their veiw and then fix the problems and
    if the don't then you can blame the Congress and the President. Their is an election comming up vote them out if they don't vote for you. When it comes down to it you my have to cross the party line to get sometthing done. Look when
    we was in service we got the job done!!

    July 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RJC

    As a former VA employee I know what a crazy system the VA can be for patients trying to access care, but I must say that my husband is a current VA employee and often times will see patients who arrive very late for appointments, even when his appointments (in neuropsych) take hours to complete. He was seeing a patient last Friday until 6PM as we were trying to leave town on vacation! I think it depends a great deal on local leadership of your VA – we have a great one here in our town, and they are very focused on patient care. That was a struggle for me when I was at the VA – that we have some of the hardest working folks at the VA, but we also have a bunch of folks who, as someone else said, "just need to find a job somewhere else"

    July 6, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Thomas Murray

    We will have no tolerance for anything that causes the veterans inconvenience," I hope that this is the new standard, because it certainly has not been the practice in the past. I could write a book.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse | Reply

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