Documents Show Temple VA Changed Requested Appt. Dates for Bonus - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Documents Show Temple VA Changed Requested Appt. Dates for Bonus Payoff

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(KCEN) -  The Veterans Affairs scandal deepens. Documents uncovered by a popular news website show an alleged cover-up by doctors in Temple.

Those documents, provided by a whistleblower, are all internal memos and emails. Someone inside the Temple VA sent them to news site The Daily Beast.

They allegedly show VA leaders were more concerned with their bonuses than with their patients.

Long wait times for appointments, a massive backlog for patients -- both well-documented issues for VA medical centers across the country. Now here in central Texas, a new scandal.

"I've been coming here for years," veteran Gerald Leavell said. He, like many others, has seen appointments pushed back months at a time.

"It does kind of rile you ... when you can't have it when you thought you were supposed to have it," he said.

Now, internal documents uncovered by The Daily Beast show Temple VA leaders asked doctors to change requested appointment dates.

A discontinue order sent by one doctor in 2011 asks an appointment for a vet with cirrhosis be canceled. He notes, "please reorder with date desired 8/12/11."

That desired date is the one a care provider recommends. VA policy is that vets should be seen within 14 days of the desired date.

Keeping in line with that policy is a major factor in determining overall performance -- and potential bonuses for the staff.

One Temple VA patient, who wanted to remain anonymous, sent us an email saying he regularly scheduled appointments there.

He writes, "Then a few days before the appointment I would receive another card in the mail stating that the appointment was canceled, not rescheduled just canceled."

Representatives for the Temple VA declined to be interviewed, but emailed us a statement that reads, in part, "...any finding of scheduling irregularities will result in swift disciplinary action and referral for possible criminal investigation."

The Daily Beast also got their hands on an email chain from the end of 2011.

An administrator in charge of scheduling tells doctors to, "Please use the date desired for screening mammography exams as the 2nd of January. The first available slots for screening mammograms is January the 12th."

Chief of staff for the Central Texas VA William Harper emails back, "You cannot do this!!!! This is essentially fraud. The desired date is what it is and if we don't meet the standard then we will work to improve."

It's an issue that patients most likely wouldn't notice, since it's all internal.

"I've had no issue with the VA," Akeed Habeeb said after an appointment at the Temple facility. He echoed what we've heard from a lot of patients around central Texas.

"My doctors always looked out for me," he said, "all the staff has always been good to me."

What they do notice are the canceled appointments and long wait times.

"I guess everybody's experienced that," Leavell said.

This story has also caught the eye of our lawmakers in Washington. Senator John Cornyn's office sent us a brief statement that reads, in part, "Putting a bonus above the health of a veteran is disgusting and potentially criminal."

Congressman John Carter, who serves the Temple area, expanded on Cornyn's thoughts in a statement he emailed to us: "I am disgusted to yet again learn about the mistreatment of our veterans. …this is not a funding issue, but an accountability and leadership issue."

"It's time," the statement continues, "for the cover ups to end and put our veterans first, not bonuses."

"We welcome the scrutiny so that the truth can come out and the veterans' and employees' concerns can be addressed," another section of the statement from the Temple VA reads.

For some patients who rely on the facility,  it's not so much about who might have done what, it's simply about getting the care the need.

"It's not a matter of fact of believing it or not believing it," Habeeb said. "I just can't confirm any of it, because I've never had any issues with them."

We talked a number of patients throughout the day, a lot of them simply expressing frustration with the VA. Some didn't want to talk on camera out of fear of repercussions.
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