VA Clinic Employee On Leave After E-Mail About Manipulating Appointments

By: Nick Viviani
By: Nick Viviani

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW/CNN) -- A growing scandal over the manipulation of health care appointments resulted in an employee at a Wyoming clinic of the Department of Veterans Affairs being placed on administrative leave, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said Friday.

An e-mail allegedly written by an employee in Cheyenne, obtained by CNN, says: "Yes, it is gaming the system a bit. But you have to know the rules of the game you are playing, and when we exceed the 14 day measure, the front office gets very upset, which doesn't help us. Let me know if this doesn't make sense."

Shinseki released a statement saying he has ordered an investigation by the inspector general and that the employee be removed immediately from patient care responsibilities and placed on leave.

"VA takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously," Shinseki said. "If true, the behavior outlined in the email is unacceptable."

“If the department of Veterans Affairs can’t better manage the circumstance it’s in now – if it can’t care for our current set of veterans and their families – we know that there are more coming with significant physical and mental challenges. I’m quite convinced that in the absence of dramatic change at the VA, we are not prepared for the servicemen and women who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS).

Earlier this week, Moran called for Shinseki to resign. Moran serves on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which subpoenaed Shinseki to testify next week, and will be questioning him.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the committee, said in a statement that "the VA's reaction to the latest development in its delays in care scandal is faux outrage at its finest."

"Since last year, VA officials have known about intentional efforts to falsify patient wait time data at the Fort Collins, Colo., Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, which is part of the Cheyenne VA Medical Center," Miller said in the statement. "In fact, according to a Dec. 2013 VA Office of Medical Inspector report, clerks at the Fort Collins clinic were actually taught how to cook the books. Yet until today, department officials had not taken any steps whatsoever to discipline any employees or request an independent investigation -- nor did they plan to do so."

Miller said Shinseki's actions Friday appear "to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to tough media questions than anything else. If this is what it takes for VA leaders to do the right thing, you can't help but question how they operate when they think no one is paying attention."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN on Friday that if the mounting accusations are true, "people should go to jail." He spoke before news broke of the Wyoming clinic e-mail.

McCain's comments came the same day that he appeared at a Phoenix town hall meeting in which a procession of veterans and their families criticized what they described as widespread delays and mismanagement within the national health care system designed for America's veterans.

"If it is what it appears to be, this isn't just resignations, this is violations of the law," McCain told CNN's Jake Tapper. "People should go to jail."

The former POW said, "Not surprisingly ... this is spreading .... and we need to hold people accountable."

McCain told the town hall meeting that Shinseki called him to say he had ordered a "face-to-face audit" at all VA clinics but wanted to wait for an VA inspector general's report before revealing his findings.

"My friends, an inspector general's report can take months. I told him we cannot wait a day, much less months, before there is a report," McCain said amid applause.

Shinseki ordered the audit Thursday. The same day, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee subpoenaed Shinseki.

The Shinseki subpoena will cover e-mails that allegedly discussed the destruction of a secret list, first reported by CNN, of veterans waiting for care at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Attention on the secretary follows months of CNN exclusive reporting about U.S. veterans who have died while they waited for treatment at VA hospitals across the country.

CNN has submitted numerous requests for an interview with Shinseki; the secretary has refused them all.

On Thursday, a VA scheduler in San Antonio, Texas, said clerks scheduling medical appointments for veterans were "cooking the books" at their bosses' behest to hide the fact some had to wait weeks, if not months, for appointments.

The Office of Inspector General confirmed to CNN that it has staff investigators on the ground in San Antonio looking into the allegations.

The federal department is also fending off allegations of potentially deadly delays at other facilities, including claims of the secret wait list in Phoenix.

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