VA bonuses were incentive to hide wait times, whistleblowers say

HINES, Ill. -- Germaine Clarno is a VA social worker and employee representative in Chicago. She alleges there are multiple secret waiting lists of veterans kept at the Hines VA Medical Center.

Asked which divisions of the hospital kept the secret waiting lists, Clarno says, "Employees are coming to me from all over the hospital, from outpatient, inpatient, surgery, radiology."

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Germaine Clarno
CBS News
Clarno says veterans were put on secret waiting lists when they called for appointments, but they wouldn't formally get an appointment booked in the computer until one came up within the VA's goal of 14 days. The purpose of the lists, she says, was to hide how often veterans were not being seen on time.

Clarno says the purpose of the lists was "to make numbers look better for their own recognition and for bonuses."

The VA grants bonuses to executives and doctors, partly based on short wait times. Whistleblowers -- including Dr. Sam Foote, who revealed the scandal in Phoenix, where up to 40 veterans may have died -- believe bonuses give an incentive to conceal delays in care.

VA chief says hospital workers disciplined, but many still employed

Clarno says it is easier for bosses to claim short wait times -- and collect the reward -- than it is to explain why the target can't be met. She says she believes that throughout the VA, people are faking the wait time data in order to receive bonuses.

The VA told CBS News that bonuses based on 14-day appointments began in 2011, but that "the 14-day wait time target is a small portion of an executive's assessment, which is comprised of nearly 80 separate (measurements)."

Most veterans tell CBS News appointments take much longer. Paul Rodriguez, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, sees several different doctors at Hines VA and says he never sees doctors within 14 days.

"It can be anywhere between one, two, three, four months," he says.

The director of the Hines VA, Joan Ricard, told CBS News in a statement that she has no direct evidence of any falsified wait times. VA investigators are due at the medical center Wednesday as part of the national audit to determine exactly how long veterans are waiting for health care.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.

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