Independent VA probe would help fix system

The buck stops — where? Apparently not with top executives. An internal Veterans Affairs investigation triggered last fall by a whistleblower complaint at the Raymond G. Murphy Medical Center found that medical appointment records for veterans seeking care at the center were manipulated for years to hide long wait times.

A Sunday Albuquerque Journal story by investigative reporter Colleen Heild spelled out the pervasive practice in which VA schedulers said they had “scripts” to follow “when negotiating the desired date” for veterans’ appointments.

The report also said lists were circulated “down the respective service chains of command” in which appointments were “simply canceled” and then “remade” to show acceptable wait times.

The report, however, said the investigator could not identify who in management disseminated the “scripts” and “lists” or gave the orders to game the system so it looked more efficient than it was.

The report said it couldn’t determine when the practice began, but said it had been going on for years.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of top VA executives nationwide received performance bonuses for hitting goals that included a 14-day target for patients to be seen. The goal and the bonuses have been abandoned.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General is continuing its criminal investigation into the scandal here and nationwide. But Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., says that’s not enough. She has called for an outside investigation of the local center and has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to include the New Mexico VA system in its criminal probe of the Phoenix system.

Given the inconclusive in-house investigation, having an outside agency investigate would be an appropriate way to find out where this buck should stop. And to help decide how to fix what’s clearly a broken system.

— Albuquerque Journal