With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

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Rochester VA clinic staff ‘felt pressure’ to manipulate wait time data, audit finds

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: July 31, 2014 - 5:23 PM

An internal audit by the VA found that staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Rochester “felt pressure to manipulate” appointment data to hide delays in medical care to veterans.

“The audit information is troubling, but not shocking give the culture we’ve uncovered at VA in recent months and the pressure to hit unrealistic wait-time goals,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represents Rochester.

The audit by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration was ordered earlier this year by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In response to cover-ups of wait times at VA facilities, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have reached an agreement that will provide $10 billion in emergency funding to the VA to allow veterans to seek private care rather than face long wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Walz was a member of the House-Senate conference that negotiated the deal.

 “[The audit] underscores the importance of the … legislation we passed. This legislation ends the practice of using wait-time metrics for performance goals.”

Minneapolis VA officials said they will have to wait until the VA Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., to complete its review to find out what happened in the Rochester clinic. The audit found that “staff … felt pressure to manipulate desired date in order to meet performance measure.”

Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System said: “We don’t have enough information … to really take action on that. When there’s a further level of review, we will then take the appropriate … suggested or needed actions.”

As part of the audit, 43 schedulers in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System – including its network of 13 clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin -- were asked whether they were instructed to alter scheduling data or felt pressured to do so. The Minneapolis system has about 900 schedulers total.

Five schedulers in the Minneapolis region said they received instructions to alter appointment data. One scheduler said they were told to track appointments outside the system.

VA policy is to enter the date the veteran requests as the “desired date” even if that time is not available. That date is then used to track waiting times for veterans to get appointments.

Kelly said the issues were tied to compliance issues at two clinics and “never any issue of integrity or trying to hide anything.”

The report found no offenses in the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. Released this week, the report follows up on an audit of 900 Veterans Affairs’ facilities throughout the United States.

Minnesota House members vote along party lines to sue President Obama

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: July 31, 2014 - 1:48 PM

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members voted mostly like the rest of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday on a measure to sue President Barack Obama over executive powers -- the state's three Republicans supported it, the five Democrats voted against it.

At the heart of the House resolution, which authorizes GOP Speaker John Boehner to sue the president, is Obamacare. Republicans say the president has not adequately enforced the law, which they oppose, because his administration has delayed some parts of its implementation, including the requirement that employers provide health coverage.

Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen's spokesman sent over this statement Thursday:

"Congressman Paulsen is concerned about the continued growth of executive power and its impact on our political system. The vote made by the House seeks more accountability of the executive branch through this narrowly defined action. This is more about making sure the president – and any future president – is constitutionally required to faithfully execute our nation’s laws or go through Congress to have them changed."

Joining Paulsen in a yes vote were GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline.

Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum said ahead of the vote she was going to vote "no on the Boehner lawsuit and will instead focus my energy on the needs of the families of the Fourth District."

Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan also voted no.

"Republicans have failed to get their work done in Washington and they use stunts like this lawsuit to distract attention from that simple truth," McCollum said.

Rep. Walz introduces bill to combat veteran suicides

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:49 PM

Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz Thursday has introduced a bill to help combat veteran suicides.

Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, unveiled the legislation at a news conference with the mother of former Marine Clay Hunt, who committed suicide in 2011 after serving two combat tours, one apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An estimated 22 veterans killed themselves every day in 2010, up from 18 per day in 2007, according to the latest figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many,” Walz said in a statement. “While the wars overseas may be ending, all too often our heroes return only to face a war of their own at home.

The legislation would pave the way for more veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury to receive care from the VA. Studies found that tens of thousands of veterans were erroneously discharged and denied benefits after being misdiagnosed with other conditions.

The bill would also mandate annual independent evaluations of VA suicide and mental health programs and establish a peer support program to help service members understand what mental health care services are available to them.

Hunt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in 2007. During the tour, a sniper shot him the wrist, and he returned to the United States for treatment. He returned to duty in 2008, serving a tour in Afghanistan.

During an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, said doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. But she said her son seemed to be coping relatively well before his suicide.

Walz introduced the legislation with Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Senate Democrats proposed legislation in March to address the same issue.

Democratic Sens. Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar to ride out with Obama on Air Force One Thursday

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 25, 2014 - 4:44 PM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar will ride out with President Barack Obama Thursday to  Minneapolis and attend events with him both days, staffers confirmed Wednesday.

Both Franken and Klobuchar say they want to talk to the president on the plane about the recent flooding in Minnesota.

Klobuchar will speak at the Lake Harriet Bandshell Friday, where Obama is scheduled to make a speech on the economy.

Neither office was able to confirm attendance Tuesday because the Senate voting schedule was still in flux.

Other confirmed Democrats from the Congressional delegation attending at least some of the events with Obama: Rep. Rick Nolan, Rep. Tim Walz, Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Keith Ellison. Rep. Collin Peterson will not go to any of them.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was enthusiastic about the visit earlier in the week, telling the Strib: "I would be glad to appear with President Obama," he said. "I would want to appear with any president of any political party."

Rep. Tim Walz appointed to House VA Conference Committee

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 18, 2014 - 5:22 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Walz was among six Democrats and eight Republicans tapped Wednesday on the House side to work out differences between passed House and Senate legislation to reform the Veterans Administration.

Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, is a member of the House Veterans Committee.

In a statement, Walz said, "My number one goal as a veteran myself and a member of this conference committee is to ensure our veterans and their families are able to get the care they need, and in a timely manner."

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the reform legislation are not great, staffers say, but both chambers are eager to get VA reform passed and sent to the president promptly.

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