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VA Whistleblower's Tale

March 19, 2015

Tori Richards at Watchdog.org has been doing some terrific investigative reporting on the VA scandal, and I highly recommend her latest piece describing the whistleblower in a Louisiana VA facility that brought this chapter of the scandal to light.

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Tori Richards at Watchdog.org has been doing some terrific investigative reporting on the VA scandal, and I highly recommend her latest piece describing the whistleblower in a Louisiana VA facility that brought this chapter of the scandal to light.

Watchdog.org goes inside Veteran Affair’s secret wait list system

Shea Wilkes had a problem. The performance goals he faced as a Veterans Affairs employee in Shreveport, La., required him to meet rising demand for health care with an increasingly outnumbered staff.

“I was legitimately trying to do that, going to the meetings and trying to figure out (how to meet the performance measures) with such a limited staff of doctors,” said Wilkes, a social worker who was formerly assistant to the director of the Mental Health Division at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center.

The emphasis on performance goals was driven by a concern for patient care, but also by a bonus system that rewarded Wilkes’ superiors for the large numbers of patients who saw health-care providers.

Many managers seemed to meet their goals. But Wilkes couldn’t see how that was possible.

And then about 15 months ago, Wilkes says, he understood everything. He says he was making a photocopy near the hospital’s scheduling windows and overheard a conversation between a scheduler and a veteran.

“We don’t have any providers,” Wilkes says the scheduler was telling the vet. “We don’t have ‘em right now. They are coming. We are going to put you on this list.”

Wilkes says he vividly recalls that the scheduler did not enter the veteran’s name into the hospital’s computer system — where it could be tracked by federal officials — but instead used a pencil to write the veteran’s name on a piece of paper. Wilkes leaned in for a closer look.

“There were a lot of names on there, I noticed,” Wilkes said. “I said, ‘What is that?’ They said, ‘Oh, this is the list they have us keeping because we don’t have (enough) providers.’ I started putting two and two together.”

That’s when Wilkes recalled news media reports of an audit at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Patients there had waited up to a year for appointments. Three who wanted to see psychiatrists committed suicide before they could. Veterans Affairs officials in Atlanta admitted that many of their 4,000 veterans simply “fell through the cracks.”

Wilkes alerted his superiors, telling them he suspected a similar scam was playing out in Overton Brooks. When they failed to act, he filed a complaint with the VA Office of Inspector General. But as Watchdog has reported, Wilkes, the whistleblower, suddenly found himself the target of the Inspector General’s investigation after reporting the whole messy affair to the media: Overton Brooks has an Atlanta-style scandal of its own — a waiting list of 2,700, including 37 veterans who apparently died while awaiting care.

At a press conference weeks later, Overton Brooks Director Toby Mathew had said no such lists existed at his hospital...

Read the whole thing, and remember it the next time someone touts the wonders of single-payer health care where government bureaucrats get to determine when, where, and how we all receive health care.

Article Tags
Health Care
Author
Sean Parnell (sparnell@heartland.org) is a research fellow for health policy at The Heartland Institute.
sparnell@heartland.org @seandparnell