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Continued: Veterans Administration employee: 'They wanted me to cook the books'

  • Article by: DAVID ZUCCHINO, CINDY CARCAMO and ALAN ZAREMBO  , Los Angeles Times
  • Last update: May 20, 2014 - 9:02 PM

In Texas, Carolyn Richardson, 70, said a VA doctor last year ordered “immediate” chemotherapy for her husband, Army veteran Anson “Dale” Richardson, 66, but a two-month delay robbed him of the chance to fight the throat cancer that killed him Nov. 4.

In Phoenix, Thomas Breen, 71, a Navy veteran with a history of bladder cancer, waited two months last fall for a follow-up appointment at the VA facility there after discovering blood in his urine. His family finally took him to a private hospital that diagnosed him with terminal bladder cancer. He died Nov. 30.

Six days later, a clerk from the VA in Phoenix called Breen’s daughter-in-law, Sally Barnes-Breen, to schedule an appointment.

“No. You are too late, sweetheart,” Barnes-Breen said she told the clerk. “He’s dead.”

In Nevada, Sandi Niccum, 78, a blind Navy veteran, was forced to wait five hours for emergency room treatment at a VA facility in North Las Vegas last year. Niccum, who was weeping and pounding the floor with her cane because of intense pain, died less than a month later after a large mass was found. A VA investigation did not link the care delay to her death, but faulted the facility for the wait.

In Durham, N.C., two employees were put on administrative leave last week after an internal review found irregularities in appointments.

Some VA employees have said they faced reprisals after they resisted instructions to manipulate appointment books.

Lisa Lee, a medical support assistant at the VA facility in Fort Collins, Colo., said she was transferred and later put on two-week administrative leave when she objected to supervisors’ instructions to manipulate appointments. “They wanted me to cook the books, and I didn’t do it,” Lee said. “You’re supposed to do your work and shut up.”

After Lee was transferred, a VA supervisor in June wrote an e-mail to the Fort Collins staff instructing them to manipulate veterans’ appointment requests in order to meet the 14-day directive. In the e-mail, the official, David Newman, wrote: “Yes, it’s gaming the system a bit. But you have to know the rules of the game you are playing, and when we exceed the 14-day measure, the front office gets very upset, which doesn’t help us.”


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