WASHINGTON — Following up on a promise from last week, the leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today formally requested a inspector general investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs record-keeping practices on wait times for patients seeking mental health care.
VA officials have said that most patients who request such appointments are seen within 14 days, but experts testifying before the committee last week said the department may be gaming those numbers. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., requested the VA inspector general look into the issue to “determine if wait time data VA collects represent an accurate depiction of veterans’ ability to access those services.”
Michelle Washington, post-traumatic stress disorder coordinator at the VA medical center in Wilmington, Del., told lawmakers that the VA’s appointment data is often wildly inaccurate, and that appointments scheduled months after an initial request still count as “within 14 days” under convoluted logic laid out by administrators.
She also testified that appointments for returning patients are routinely bumped for new patients, to make sure as many individuals as possible are seen in the clinics.
Mary Schohn, director of mental health operations at the Veterans Health Administration, told lawmakers that officials are not intentionally inflating their appointments records and promised to review department practices to make sure they’re collecting the most relevant data.
Murray said the request to the inspector general will help ensure that is done.