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Concerns about Texas VA hospital wait times spreads

May. 13, 2014 - 08:56AM   |  
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AUSTIN, TEXAS — Concerns about scheduling practices at veterans’ hospitals in Central Texas and San Antonio have spread to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

A former top official at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Harlingen told investigators that unreliable tests were substituted for colonoscopies, according to documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1qxuTvA ). The closest VA provider who performed colonoscopies was four hours from Harlingen, and the VA did not want to pay to provide them closer, Dr. Richard Krugman, former associate chief of staff at the hospital, told investigators.

“Patient care was impacted by the VA’s requirements to cut costs,” Krugman said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating scheduling practices at its hospitals in Texas as part of a nationwide audit of access to care. A whistleblower at San Antonio’s North Central Federal Clinic, Brian Turner, said he and other clerks were instructed to manipulate scheduling data so it appeared there were no wait times.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, chairs the Texas Senate’s veterans affairs committee. On Monday, she called for an independent investigation of the wait time concerns at the clinics. She demanded accountability from top VA officials over Turner’s allegations.

“If found true, these actions represent a terrible breach of trust with veterans who rely on the VA health care system,” Van de Putte said in a statement.

“The performance standard for veterans to see a doctor is 14 days,” Van de Putte said. “However, my own staff has been told that the nearest appointment was 4 months away.”

Van de Putte said she intends to hold hearings on the matter.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn called the allegations “outrageous and absolutely unacceptable, and the Administration’s response to this ongoing scandal has been tepid at best.

“Our veterans deserve the highest level of treatment, and it is becoming clear that leadership at the VA has been more concerned with the appearance of care rather than how they provided it,” the Texas Republican said in a written statement.

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