The U.S. House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to comply with its own rules on scheduling medical appointments for military veterans.
“It's time to put an end to scheduling manipulations, the cooking of the books and false wait time data,” Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, the sponsor of the bill, said during remarks on the House floor broadcast by C-SPAN.
The VA Scheduling Accountability Act passed the House on a 419-0 vote and goes to the Senate for consideration. The legislation would withhold pay bonuses from VA facility directors who fail to annually certify compliance with 19 patient scheduling rules and require VA to provide to Congress a list of facilities that are not in compliance. Scheduling manipulations surfaced in 2014 at VA's Phoenix hospital and have been reported at other VA medical sites since then.
A VA investigation sought last year by Walorski uncovered scheduling improprieties at the agency's outpatient clinic in Peru. An employee at the clinic, which is operated by the VA Medical Center in Fort Wayne, was scheduling physician appointments for veterans without their knowledge and canceling them on the day of the appointment, according to a report issued in March by the Veterans Health Administration.
These “placeholder” appointments either were filled by veterans seeking urgent attention or left open and documented as a patient “no-show,” the report stated. The investigation found 56 instances of placeholder appointments between Oct. 1, 2014, and Dec. 21, 2016, at the Peru clinic, which is in Walorski's district.
“The VA's continued inability to reform itself from within is the reason we need to pass this bill,” Walorski said Wednesday about the VA Scheduling Accountability Act.
Her proposal would prohibit the agency from granting waivers to yearly compliance certification, which she said a senior VA official did in 2013.
“Without this crucial accountability mechanism, bad actors were given free rein to manipulate wait-time data and ignore the VA's required scheduling practices,” she said. “Meanwhile, veterans faced significant delays in getting the care they needed, while in some extreme cases veterans died.”