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2014-06-12

Is IG stonewalling investigation of four VA facilities in Texas?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pictured: During a recent press conference, Congressman Lamar Smith fielded questions about a current IG investigation into four VA healthcare facilities in Texas.



On Wednesday, June 4, Congressman Lamar Smith questioned the integrity of the current investigation of VA facilities in Texas.
He has requested additional information from Acting Inspector General of Veterans Affairs Richard Griffin regarding the current investigation into allegations of misconduct at four facilities.
Specifically, Smith pressed the IG on new reports from a series of whistleblowers at Audie Murphy Memorial Hospital that senior managers at the hospital had ordered appointment schedulers to hide evidence of delays for veterans seeking care. Audie Murphy is located in Smith's congressional district in San Antonio.
Prior to the troubling allegations surfacing at Audie Murphy, Smith had requested investigations into suspected wrongdoing at the North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio, the Austin Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic and the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
On May 27, Griffin confirmed that his office is investigating allegations of misconduct at the three VA facilities in Central Texas. However, in light of subsequent revelations, Smith questioned the legitimacy of those IG investigations.
In his latest letter to Griffin, Smith raised concerns about the independence and integrity of the IG investigation after reports surfaced indicating that investigators were only interviewing schedulers who had been handpicked and coached by senior management.
Smith pressed the IG on specifics regarding the investigation, including how many IG investigators have been assigned to San Antonio, as well as whether the interviews are taking place in person or over the phone. He also raised concerns about allegations that "managers sit in on these interviews and instruct employees not to be forthcoming with OIG staff."
"If this is true," Smith questioned, "how can you claim that your investigation is an independent and comprehensive review?"
It was last month that Smith asked Griffin to open an investigation into allegations of misconduct at three VA facilities in Texas. According to media reports, employees the facilities in question had been instructed by supervisors to ensure that wait times for veterans were as "close to zero days as possible."
An employee of Veterans Affairs who recently worked at all three clinics claims that staffers falsely logged patients' desired appointment dates to coincide closely with appointment openings. In reality, however, veterans were left waiting for months.
During a press conference, Smith questioned why the IG is being so "closed-mouthed" about the San Antonio VA investigation. "The fact that (Mr. Griffin) is not answering questions, and the fact that, quite possibly, individuals who should have been interviewed are not being interviewed, raises even more questions and suspicions," Smith said.
Smith asked that Griffin provide detailed and direct answers to a several specific questions by Friday, June 13. A full copy of Smith's letter regarding a possible cover-up at Audie Murphy is available at http://lamarsmith.house.gov/sites/lamarsmith.house.gov/files/documents/
6.4.14%20Letter%20to%20VA%20OIG%20re%20ongoing%20investigation%20in%20San%20Antonio.pdf.
Additionally, a recently released internal audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that over 100,000 veterans either faced wait times of over 90 days for an initial medical appointment or had never had an appointment within the last 10 years. Additionally, 69 VA facilities are currently under investigation.