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Audit Finds 13 Percent Of VA Schedulers Told To Falsify Data

A nationwide audit of hundreds of medical facilities run by the Veterans Affairs Department finds that more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or longer for an initial medical appointment.

Perhaps more stunning, the internal audit found that 13 percent of schedulers said they received instructions from supervisors to falsify data so the centers could meet performance goals.

Specifically, the anonymous survey asked schedulers: "Do you feel you receive instruction from the facility to enter a desired date other than the date a Veteran asks to be seen?"

Thirteen percent said yes, and the report notes that while the reasons for answering yes varied, schedulers at 90 clinics said they were doing so "in order to improve performance measures."

The Associated Press reports:

"The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. Examining 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, the audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking their first appointments with both primary care doctors and specialists.

"The audit said a 14-day target for waiting times was 'not attainable,' given growing demand for VA services and poor planning. It called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials setting it, and then basing bonuses on meeting the target 'an organizational leadership failure.'

"The audit is the third in a series of reports in the past month into long wait times and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide. The controversy forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. Shinseki took the blame for what he decried as a 'lack of integrity' in the sprawling system providing health care to the nation's military veterans."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.