VA whistleblower used computer trick to falsify appointments

The Veterans Affairs scandal is about the department's hospitals keeping veterans waiting for months for appointments and, in some cases, covering up those long wait times.

A VA insider showed CBS News how, she says, it was done.

The whistleblower says that a simple computer trick has allowed the VA to falsify reports of how long veterans wait for health care.

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A whistleblower showed CBS News how appointments were manipulated
CBS News

For several years, she's been an appointment scheduler at the Hines VA medical center outside Chicago.

We have agreed to protect her identity because she fears the VA will fire her.

The scam, she says, boils down to this -- no matter how long a veteran waited for care, supervisors demanded computer reports showing no wait at all.

"They started telling us that we needed to put in, make the wait time zero wait time, to make it seem like the patient didn't have to wait that long," she said.

Reporting a zero wait time, she says, was easy.

"I am scamming the system," she said.

She showed us the VA software program called Vista to demonstrate. For example, one veteran asks for an appointment on May 28, his desired date, but gets an appointment on June 10.

That's a wait of 13 days. She says the typical wait is three months, and here's the manipulation.

The system allows schedulers to alter the desired date. When she changes the desired date to June 10, up comes a new report of zero days waited.

It doesn't matter how long he actually waited. The computer sees no wait time.

"No wait time," she said.

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Hines VA medical center in Illinois
CBS News

Three of her coworkers and sources at four other VA hospitals told us they've used this same computer trick for years.

"Yes we're being ordered to do it illegally," she said. "Verbally by our immediate supervisor."

And if she did not comply?

"We get a write up and we have to correct it," she said. "'Hey you did something wrong. Correct it.'"

Did she feel that in order to keep her job, she had to keep falsifying?"

"Yes," she said.

Why would they do this?

"Bonuses," she said.

Was that well known?

"Yes," she said.

If they admitted a problem they would have to ask headquarters for more physicians?

"That's right," she said.

And they were trying to hide that?

"Yes," she said.

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Veterans typically waited three months for an appointment
CBS News

We asked the VA for a response to this story but officials there referred us to the Office of Inspector General, which had no comment.

But an Office of Inspector General report was released on Wednesday and officials announced that the new focus of this investigation would be on who ordered the scheme, and how far up in the VA bureaucracy does this go.

Has the Hines VA medical center done anything to correct the problem since the revelations surfaced?

We have not learned of anything specific at Hines but nationwide the VA has finally acknowledged this week that it was not clerks who were making mistakes. This is systemic. All of the clinics, Hines included, have been told to dig into the computer system, and get these backlogged veterans their appointments, even if that means going outside of the VA.

  • 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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