Hawaii senator asks inspector general to investigate alleged VA cover-up


U.S. Senator Brian Schatz

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, has asked the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate whether Hawaii administrators ordered hospital staffers to cover up the length of time patients are forced to wait for appointments.

In a June 4 letter obtained by Watchdog.org, Schatz told acting inspector general Richard Griffin there are “potential incidents of misconduct” affecting veterans seeking medical care in Hawaii.

“It is my understanding that the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System has conducted its own patient access audit and found no evidence of misconduct in Hawaii. However, several constituents have contacted my office with information concerning the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center, one of the facilities that the VA PIHCS reportedly audited,” Schatz said.

VA doctors and nurses at that facility reportedly said the chief administrator asked staff to wipe their computers clean regarding patient wait times, Schatz said.

In addition, Schatz said there are allegations lower- and mid-level management personnel are being told to “cook-the-books” regarding patients’ appointments.

In one case, a constituent said an appointment wasn’t entered into the VA’s electronic system until three weeks after the appointment was requested so as to disguise the true wait time, Schatz said.

Schatz maintains these are “serious allegations” and said if there is evidence of wrongdoing there must be accountability.

“I request that you investigate these allegations as part of your nationwide review of misconduct at VA hospitals. We owe it to the 117,000 veterans living in Hawaii, many of whom are rural veterans on the neighbor islands who are already struggling to access routine care,” Schatz said.

A VA audit released Monday showed that veterans seeking care at the VA Medical Center in Hawaii wait an average of 145 days, five times longer than anywhere else in the country.

Perhaps more striking, some 64,000 veterans enrolled in the system for at least 10 years have yet to see a doctor.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation giving veterans access to private medical care in limited instances. The House passed a similar bill Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, said the legislation in the House and Senate allows veterans who live 40 miles or more from a VA facility to receive medical care from non-VA facilities. The bills also include funding for Hawaii’s Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access Center.

Both the House and Senate must agree on a final version of the legislation before sending it to President Obama for his authorization.

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com