Eight years after a scandal over VA understating how long veterans were waiting for care at its facilities, the IG there again has raised concerns over what it called the “consistency and transparency” of that data.
The earlier scandal had several significant impacts on the VA, including congressional hearings that led to passage of a law boosting veterans’ access to other care providers if waiting times exceeded certain standards and restricting employees’ rights to challenge disciplinary actions. Unions representing VA employees have since decried the former as a form of privatization and the latter as having the greatest impact on rank and file employees even though it was primarily aimed at senior managers and executives.
Also as a result of that scandal the VA began more public reporting of that data online but in the time since “has presented wait times to the public without clearly and consistently detailing the basis for their calculations,” the report said.
The department has used several different methodologies, it said, including in some cases calculating the wait from the date an appointment was clinically indicated, in others from the point the patient first requested one, and in yet others from the date a VA employee made the appointment, which can be a month or more later. Further, data presented on a second public website launched in 2017 “was inconsistent with even its own public website information, active and accessible at the same time as the first website.”
It said that the agency has been internally discussing those issues since 2019 but the topic was made a lower priority by the need to respond to the pandemic until last summer, when consideration began again. However, officials told the IG that reconciling the differences “is not merely a “flip of the switch” due to challenges of collecting consistent data points.”