The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General released a report summary this week that said a veteran seeking care at the VA in San Diego had his appointments canceled four times, which drove him to a suicide attempt in 2014.
The IG has grudgingly admitted that the VA's notorious wait-time scandal may have contributed to the harm of veterans, but the report summary provides stark details about just how bad it got for one vet.
According to the report summary, which was released Wednesday, the IG received information from a VA employee that a veteran attempted suicide "due to his frustration with his canceled appointments." A closer look revealed that the veterans' appointments had been canceled since early 2014.
"The veteran last saw his mental health provider in early 2014," the summary said. "He then had an appointment scheduled for several months later, which was also canceled by the clinic."
"The veteran was then scheduled to see his mental health provider near the date OIG learned of the suicide attempt, but that appointment was canceled by the clinic, as well," it added. "Ultimately, the veteran was scheduled in advance to see the provider the following month, but by the time the data was reviewed, the appointment had already been canceled by the clinic."
The IG summary added that the veteran was not scheduled to see a healthcare provider until "after his suicide attempt."
"He estimated that his appointments were canceled four times in a row, which triggered his behavior," the IG said of the veteran.
The report summary for San Diego concluded that the VA staff systemically forced veterans to routinely reschedule appointments, apparently to make it appear as if all patients were receiving prompt care. The IG said those instructions "explicitly violated" a VA directive on scheduling.
"This shows how our veterans are at the mercy of a VA healthcare system rife with incompetence at best, and corruption at worst," John Cooper, press secretary for Concerned Veterans for America, told the Washington Examiner.
"That any veteran should ever be placed in such a situation as this is simply unacceptable, and we hope the VA will be more forthcoming about how it is holding those involved in this denial of care accountable," he said.
A similar report summary for the Los Angeles VA provided more evidence that the scheduling scandal was systemic throughout the VA. That report said medical assistants would routinely reschedule patients in a way that makes it appear that patients had a wait time of "zero."
That report said a VA employee provided information showing that 78 percent of a list of 2,845 patients had a zero-day wait, evidence that the VA was fudging the books to make it look like the date of their appointment was their "desired date."
Despite that and other evidence, the IG report for Los Angeles concluded that it "did not substantiate that this was being done specifically to manipulate data in order to artificially lower wait times."
That conclusion was already confusing some in Washington, who said it seems clear to them that the VA was likely manipulating wait times in order to make those times appear to be lower.
"News flash: The whole purpose of manipulating wait times is to artificially lower wait times," said one aide on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.