FBI Joins Investigation Into VA Wait Times

The Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office is also looking into 69 facilities.

National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
June 11, 2014, 9:56 a.m.

An­oth­er day, an­oth­er de­vel­op­ment on the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment wait-list scan­dal.

FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey on Wed­nes­day told mem­bers of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that the bur­eau’s Phoenix of­fice has opened an in­vest­ig­a­tion. The FBI is look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions that VA staffers at its Phoenix fa­cil­ity lied about vet­er­ans’ wait times for med­ic­al care so they could re­ceive a bo­nus.

“We will fol­low wherever the facts take us. The Phoenix of­fice is where we opened it, be­cause that was the primary locus of the ori­gin­al al­leg­a­tions. We are work­ing with the VA IG,” Comey said, re­spond­ing to ques­tions on if the FBI will ex­pand its in­vest­ig­a­tion. Mul­tiple re­s­ports have found that the ma­nip­u­la­tion of wait time data at VA fa­cil­it­ies is a sys­tem­ic, na­tion­wide is­sue.

The de­cision comes after Richard Griffin, the VA’s act­ing in­spect­or gen­er­al, told mem­bers of the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee that it was in­vest­ig­at­ing 69 VA fa­cil­it­ies — not in­clud­ing Phoenix — for al­leg­a­tions in­clud­ing crim­in­al wrong­do­ing.

Griffin ad­ded that his of­fice is work­ing with DOJ, but it re­mains to be seen wheth­er the Justice De­part­ment thinks that al­ter­ing the wait times for vet­er­ans to re­ceive care rises to the level of a crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion.

“Once someone loses his job or gets crim­in­ally charged for do­ing this, it will no longer be a game. And that will be the shot heard around the sys­tem,” he said.

Bad news for the VA has been pil­ing up. An in­tern­al audit re­leased Monday found that ap­prox­im­ately 57,000 vet­er­ans had been wait­ing 90 days or more for an ap­point­ment, and that more than 63,000 vet­er­ans en­rolled in VA care who re­ques­ted an ap­point­ment nev­er got one. That fol­lows an in­ter­im re­port last month, which found that 1,700 vet­er­ans were kept off wait­ing lists at the VA’s Phoenix fa­cil­ity. The re­port led to Eric Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion as VA sec­ret­ary.

Law­makers from both parties have in­creas­ingly called for a crim­in­al in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to wheth­er VA of­fi­cials po­ten­tially com­mit­ted fraud by ly­ing about wait times so they could meet per­form­ance meas­ures that would — in turn — get them a bo­nus.

“When you’ve gone out there and on pur­pose mis­lead, know­ing that you would get a fin­an­cial bo­nus if you did that — which is ex­actly what’s happened — is that fraud? I think that is,” Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Phil Roe of Ten­ness­ee said.

Philip Matkovsky, as­sist­ant deputy un­der­sec­ret­ary for health for ad­min­is­trat­ive op­er­a­tions, ad­mit­ted Monday even­ing that “ty­ing re­wards and in­cent­ives “¦ to an activ­ity is a mis­take.”

Since the start of the scan­dal, the VA has sus­pen­ded a re­quire­ment that vet­er­ans re­ceive an ap­point­ment with­in 14 days of mak­ing a re­quest, with crit­ics ar­guing that — while well-in­ten­tioned — it was un­real­ist­ic.

The FBI was un­able to im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quest for com­ment.

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