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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good evening.

I would like to welcome everyone to tonight’s hearing entitled, “Oversight Hearing on Data Manipulation and Access to VA Healthcare: Testimony from GAO, IG and VA.”

Tonight, we will address ongoing issues of systemic wait time manipulation that occurs throughout the Veterans Health Administration and negatively impacts care provided to veterans.

VA wait times and scheduling issues have been the subject of numerous investigations by the Committee for many years.  We have many outstanding requests for information and have held hearings to address the problems within VA that have led to Veterans waiting so long for needed care.

The VA’s office of Inspector General has also repeatedly warned VA about its substandard scheduling practices.  From as early as 2005, in numerous reports, VA OIG has noted that medical facilities did not have effective electronic waiting list procedures, their outpatient scheduling procedures needed improvement nationwide, their data was often unreliable, and they overstated their success regarding patient wait times.

In December 2012, GAO found that VA’s reported wait times remained unreliable, VHA’s policy continued to be implemented inconsistently across v-a, schedulers lacked proper training, and VHA’s appointment scheduling system was outdated and inefficient.  Despite these repeated warnings that have come from Congress, GAO, and even from VA’s own investigative body, issues with patient wait times and scheduling remain a pervasive problem today. 

Last year, this committee requested that GAO conduct a separate investigation to confirm the extent of problems throughout the VHA regarding ongoing issues with patient wait times and consult delays.  GAO will testify as to its findings tonight.

Recently, the Committee received whistleblower complaints regarding the Phoenix VA Health Care System that explained how the facility was keeping numerous wait lists to give the impression that its wait times were much shorter than they actually were.  On one of the secret wait lists at the facility, sources found that as many as forty patients may have died waiting for care.  After the Committee was able to confirm these allegations, we made the issue public during our April 9, 2014, hearing. At that hearing, I asked that the VA OIG look into those allegations, which prompted its investigation.

The interim results of that VA OIG investigation were released on may 28, 2014.  In the report, the OIG substantiated a number of problems at the Phoenix VAMC, but also noted how it has opened or has planned to open investigations into forty-two different VA medical facilities.  The OIG found that at Phoenix, at least 1,700 patients who were waiting for a primary care appointment were not on the Electronic Wait List, meaning that these Veterans may never receive such an appointment. 

Additionally, OIG found that the Phoenix leadership considerably understated new patient wait times, which it noted is a metric used to consider bonuses and salary increases for VA employees.   VA OIG also stated that inappropriate scheduling practices, like those found in Phoenix, are systemic across the VHA. 

Finally, we were notified earlier last week that VA would provide the findings of its internal audit of appointment wait times by last Friday.  VA provided us with those findings earlier this afternoon.

Tonight, I look forward to hearing what VA has to say about its audit and how it plans to repair the damage it has caused by tampering with Veterans’ access to care.  With that, I now recognize Ranking Member Michaud for his opening statement.