Truth & Lies at the Veterans Administration

VA Hospital Montgomery

Image courtesy of the Veterans Administration

Truth & Lies at the Veterans Administration

By Earl Perkins | published June 14, 2014 |
Thursday Review associate editor

When you mislead or lie to a congresswoman and fire whistleblowers, there's a fair chance the government will take a keen interest in your actions.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery is incensed that workers who falsified records at Veterans Administration health centers in central Alabama were not fired, but merely re-assigned. Central Alabama VA Director James Talton apologized for a 'misunderstanding' concerning what “relieved of their duties” meant.

"Last week,” Representative Roby said, “in a meeting he requested, Director Talton made it clear to me and my district director that those responsible for falsifying wait list records in central Alabama were no longer working at the VA, due in part to action he took to remove them. I have now learned that wasn’t true. No one has been fired. That means the employees responsible for falsifying wait list records are still working at the VA in Alabama."

Roby had announced over the weekend that three VA employees associated with falsifying records concerning wait times at VA facilities had been terminated.

"...The unmistakable tenor of (last) Friday’s conversation and his failure to correct the record after three days of saturating news coverage tell me this wasn’t a misunderstanding at all. I believe I was misled,” Roby said in a statement to the press and the public, “if a member of Congress can’t get a straight answer from the VA, just think what our veterans go through on a daily basis.”

More than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, according to a federal report released last week. At least 13 percent of schedulers at VA hospitals and outpatient clinics were evidently told by supervisors to log patient wait times shorter than they actually were. Whistleblowers have come forward at numerous VA medical center locations to tell of managers or supervisors mentoring rank-and-file employees on how to manipulate the scheduling process. Some whistleblowers have used the term “gaming the system” to describe how they were instructed to create the illusion of shorter wait times.

“The current wait time for new patients is unacceptable and we are taking several actions to improve access,” Central Alabama VA spokeswoman Dorothea McBride said in an email.

The VA is supposedly making numerous changes, including expanding clinic hours and allowing 500 Columbus, Georgia, area veterans to visit non-VA health care providers.

Roby is seeking more changes, including using the VA’s Patient-Centered Community Care program in central Alabama, which allows veterans to use non-VA health care providers for services not offered by their local VA or when there are long waits. Roby has made it clear she no longer trusts the agency.

"We just don't know what's true,” Roby said. “This kind of cover-your-own-back mentality is precisely the problem at the VA. Remember that the issue at hand is the falsification of records to hide poor performance. For Director Talton to give the false impression that appropriate action had been taken when it actually had not is emblematic of the backward priorities within the VA bureaucracy.”

"This breach of trust has caused my office to dig even deeper into what is really going on in Montgomery,” she added. “I believe there is more to this story."

Roby was technically incorrect when she said nobody was fired. John Morykwas, a former employee of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), was evidently fired, along with several others. Morykwas said Tuesday night that Talton was incorrect about firing those who falsified records, according to website Yellowhammer News.

“It was wishful thinking that VA Employees were fired, but that is a lie,” he said.

Morykwas, a Board certified medical laboratory professional, said several employees involved were merely demoted, while he and others were fired for attempting to do the right thing.

“The only individuals who were fired were the whistleblowers, and I was one,” Morykwas said. “I was fired for ‘Disrespectful conduct, and Violating the Chain of Command’ for refusing to falsify medical records, and sending an email as to why I refused.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

The VA’s Long Road Ahead; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; June 13, 2014.

VA Hospitals: It’s Worse Than We Thought; Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 10, 2014.