Whistleblowers at Minneapolis VA say they were ordered to falsify records.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, questions witnesses from the Department of Veterans Affairs as the panel investigates allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz has sent a letter to the Veterans Affairs inspector general asking for a full investigation into allegations from two former Minneapolis VA employees that they were ordered to falsify records and maintain a separate secret waiting list for scheduling.
The employees worked in the Minneapolis hospital’s gastroenterology department and say veterans waiting for such procedures as cancer screening colonoscopies often were put on long waiting lists or had appointments unexpectedly canceled.
Walz called the allegations from the employees, first reported by KARE-TV, “extremely troubling and run counter to what local leadership at the VA told me.”
Walz, D-Minn., who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has repeatedly asked the Minneapolis VA about their scheduling practices after a national scandal about long wait times and secret scheduling lists, but has been assured there have been no problems locally.
But the Minneapolis hospital and a community-based clinic in Rochester have both been flagged for further review after a nationwide audit of VA facilities earlier this summer.
“If these allegations prove true, those responsible must and will be held accountable.” Walz said in a statement.
The former employees came forward to the television station to say they were pressured to falsify patient appointment dates and medical records to hide delays.
In some cases, they told the station, employees were instructed to falsify medical records by writing that patients had declined follow-up treatments even though the veterans had never been contacted.
The two employees claim they were fired after trying to alert the Minneapolis VA’s top leadership of the problems.
Walz said he will also be following up with the VA’s Office of Special Counsel to determine if the two employees lost their jobs in retaliation for coming forward.
“No employee should feel pressured to falsify data or fear retaliation if they do the right thing and report wrongdoing to their superiors,” Walz said.
The Minneapolis VA responded with a statement Friday morning. “We welcome an investigation and I, too, have requested an outside review of all the allegations,” said Patrick Kelly, the director of the Minneapolis facility.
Earlier this summer, an internal audit by the VA found that staff at a VA outpatient clinic in Rochester “felt pressure to manipulate” appointment data to hide delays in medical care for veterans.
The Minneapolis VA oversees a network of 13 clinics in western Wisconsin and Minnesota, including the Rochester location.
The VA ordered the audit of its health system after reports surfaced that schedulers, unable to meet tight deadlines for appointments, were keeping secret wait lists or entering appointment dates other than the ones requested by veterans.
In addition, complaints about a Hibbing VA clinic, run by a private company, prompted Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., of the Eighth District to hold a hearing in July. More than two dozen complaints about treatment and scheduling have been filed since the clinic was taken over by Cincinnati-based Sterling Medical Associates last year.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434