U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and State Sen. Dave Tomassoni met privately with former employees of a Hibbing Veterans Affairs clinic to hear allegations that the ex-workers were ordered to backdate medical appointment schedules to make it appear that some veterans were being seen far sooner than when the appointments actually took place.
Nolan and Tomassoni, who both represent the area, met privately on Monday for about an hour with three former clinic employees in Mountain Iron, Minn., because they worried they would suffer retaliation for coming forward, Nolan's office said.
The former employees have also complained of a hostile work environment and a policy that they said put profits ahead of care. The clinic is currently being managed by third-party contractor Cincinnati-based Sterling Medical Associates.
In a statement, Nolan's office said the congressman will share their concerns with new VA Secretary Bob McDonald and the VA's Office of Inspector General, which already has been asked to investigate the claims by the former workers.
"These allegations — that appointments were intentionally backdated, that their work environment has been hostile, and that profits are being put before the well-being of our veterans — are very troubling," Nolan said in a statement released by his office after the meeting. "I will leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of this, and to making sure that all our veterans receive the excellent and timely care they have so valiantly earned."
Six former workers, including clerks and nurses, have come forward to say they were pressured into manipulating appointments to make it appear veterans were being seen within a 14-day desired date, when, in fact, they were often scheduled six to eight weeks out.
The workers said the practice continued until April of this year, when a nationwide VA scheduling scandal came to light.
The VA and Sterling both say they welcome the Inspector General probe. Sterling has denied ever ordering workers to backdate appointments.
After the allegations of backdating at the Hibbing clinic were reported in the Star Tribune, Nolan, Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz asked VA Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin to look into the charges and report back to them at the earliest possible date.
A spokesman for the Inspector General's office said the office does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Last summer, Nolan held a veterans round table in Hibbing where veterans and family members complained of poor treatment by the Hibbing staff, delays in the approval of non-VA care, and concerns about their consistent access to prescription medications.