By MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) — Reports documenting scheduling problems and wait-time manipulation at the Department of Veterans Affairs are being made public, as the agency's internal watchdog bows to pressure from members of Congress and others to improve transparency.
The VA's Office of Inspector General released 11 reports Monday outlining problems at VA hospitals and clinics in Florida. The reports are the first of 77 investigations to be made public over the next few months.
The reports detail chronic delays for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the long waits. Intentional misconduct was substantiated in 51 of 77 completed investigations.
A scandal over veterans' health care emerged in Phoenix nearly two years ago following complaints that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the city's VA hospital.
A 2014 report by the inspector general's office said workers at the Phoenix hospital falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. Similar problems were discovered at VA medical centers nationwide, affecting thousands of veterans and prompting an outcry in Congress that continues as lawmakers and agency leaders struggle over how to improve the VA.
Lawmakers have directed some of their ire at the inspector general's office, saying the agency's acting chief has not moved fast enough to make its reports public.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., has placed a hold on President Barack Obama's nominee to be the agency's next inspector general because she is concerned the IG's office is keeping Congress and the public in the dark about the VA's problems.
"We can provide better care to veterans if the VA inspector general's office is willing to partner with Congress to address the problems at VA that prevent timely, high-quality care," Baldwin said in a statement. She vowed to hold up Obama's nomination of Michael Missal to serve as inspector general until she receives a commitment that the office "will change business as usual and start releasing these reports publicly" in a timely manner.
The IG's office said Monday it will release the investigative reports on a state-by-state basis over the next few months. Reports released Monday were all completed in 2014.
The VA said in a statement that it requested the investigations almost two years ago, adding that numerous steps have been taken since then to increase accountability and improve training.
"Since 2014, VA has been working diligently to increase access to care and improve scheduling processes. We have increased capacity, both inside VA and by relying on more community care resulting in almost 20 million additional hours of care for veterans," the statement said.
(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)