FBI Will Investigate Local VA, Central Texas Congressman Says

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2014) The Federal Bureau of Investigation will conduct a criminal investigation into allegations involving the Temple VA Medical Center, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said Wednesday.

Temple VA Medical Center (File)

Carter said he talked Wednesday with FBI Director James Comey and “secured an FBI investigation into criminal allegations” at the facility.

“I believe that the FBI needs to be investigating the Temple VA facility for criminal activities, and the Veterans Affairs Administration needs to be investigating the facility as well to administer cultural and bureaucratic reforms,” Carter said.

“I have been pushing for bureaucratic reforms at the Temple VA facility since 2011, when constituents first brought the facility’s scheduling irregularities to my attention,” Carter said.

“I succeeded in securing an Inspector General investigation of the Temple VA in 2011,” he said, but the resulting recommendations “did not solve the underlying issues within the VA.”

“Anyone participating in illegal activities needs to be terminated immediately and held accountable for their crimes, not be relocated to another VA facility where they can mistreat veterans at a different facility,” he said.

“We need to fire these corrupt bureaucrats and hire honest public servants who are dedicated to honoring our veterans and repaying them for the sacrifices they have made for our freedom,” he said.

Carter also met Wednesday with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson.

The Austin American-Statesman reported in May that Dr. Joseph L. Spann, a retired Department of Veterans Affairs doctor alleged that the chief of radiology at the Temple VA Medical Center regularly asked doctors to change their requested date for ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans to hide long backlogs for tests required before life-saving treatment can begin.

The claims were similar to ones made against VA hospitals in Phoenix and other parts of the country.

An audit released in June of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics flagged the Temple VA Medical Center for further review.

Auditors visited VA facilities in May in both Temple and Waco.

Some of the sites visited in the first phase of the audit, including Temple “were flagged because of concerns that indicated undesired scheduling practices or because detailed responses by interviewed staff indicated they had received instruction to modify scheduling dates...,” the audit said.

“The listing of these sites should be understood as a preliminary step, and further actions will be taken after the determination of the extent of issues related to scheduling and access management practices,” the audit said.

The audit says a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for health care and poor planning.

The VA has since abandoned that goal.

The audit says 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter.

The audit also flagged VA facilities in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Harlingen, McAllen and Big Spring.

The audit found that 94 percent of Temple VA appointments were scheduled within 30 days or less of a reference date and that 6 percent were scheduled within more than 30 days of the date.

The average wait time for a new primary care patient at the Temple VA is 49.86 days compared to 7.6 days for an established patient.

For specialist care, a new patient waited 54.25 days compared to 5.46 days for an established patient, and for mental health care a new patient waited 35.89 days on average compared to 2.97 days for an existing patient, the audit found.

Reports of problems at the Temple facility date back a decade or more.

In April 2004, then VA Secretary Anthony Principi made an unannounced visit to the Temple VA, apparently in response to a network television report that raised question about patient safety and the quality of patient care at the facility.

In December 2003, VA officials made an unannounced visit to the Temple hospital to check conditions and their report indicated some patients had bed sores and scabies

The review also found use of patient restraints was above the national VA average.

Officials later said steps were taken to correct the problems, which were the focus of the ABC "Primetime Thursday" investigative report.

Principi was critical of the ABC report, saying it scared veterans unnecessarily.

Four years later, in May 2008, then U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, said he was appalled” by an internal email written by an employee of the hospital that suggested avoiding a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans.

The VA identified the sender of the email as a post-traumatic stress disorder team leader at the Temple VA.

The email suggested an alternative diagnosis of adjustment disorder, which might result in a lower disability payment.