VA Destroyed Records to Reduce Backlog- Disputed!

Summary of eRumor:

This is a forwarded email that alleged that the Veterans Administration  (VA) destroyed old records of pending tests and procedures to reduce their backlog.

The Truth:

A former VA employee said that in an operation called “System Redesign” that “employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) destroyed veterans’ medical files in a systematic attempt to eliminate backlogged veteran medical exam requests.”  This according to a February 24, 2014 article by the Daily Caller who obtained recorded audio of an internal meeting of VA officials in Los Angeles, California.

According to the audio, this facility was getting more than 3000 requests a month for exams but only had the resources to accommodate 800 requests in a 30 day period.   The unfulfilled requests would roll over to the following month, which resulted in a gigantic backlog.

Former Marine veteran, Oliver Mitchell, used to be employed as a patient services assistant at the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles.  He told The Daily Caller that some patients had been waiting for exams for periods ranging from six to nine months and by the year 2008 the VA “didn’t know how to address the issue.”   Mitchell added, “The waiting list counts against the hospitals efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.”

Mitchell told the Daily Caller that “VA Greater Los Angeles Radiology department chief Dr. Suzie El-Saden initiated an ‘ongoing discussion in the department’ to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans’ medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus reducing the backlog.”

The Daily Caller said that Mitchell was transferred to another department and eventually lost his job after he “tried to blow the whistle on the scheme.”

According to a February 26, 2014 article by Military Times, the VA denied the allegations and Robert Petzel, VA’s undersecretary for health, told the Military Times that the Daily Caller report was “’scurrilous’ and confused.”   In a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Petzel told lawmakers that “This was a carefully thought out review.”   Saying that nobody was denied any care, Petzel said, “There was no attempt to eliminate records.” 

The audio of the meeting was posted on YouTube and can be heard by clicking here>  Play the audio

The Los Angeles VA may have not been the only facility accused of destroying backlogged records.   According to an October 31, 2008 article by U.S. News, 41 regional VA offices had scheduled 500 documents for destruction.   The article said that investigators were unsure of how long the the VA had been doing this and “how many veterans may have been affected.”

Posted 03/03/14     Updated 03/05/14


A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

You would think that the men and women that have served our nation and placed their lives on the line to defend our country would receive the best medical care possible, but that’s definitely not the case for many veterans.

Veterans in the greater Los Angeles area spend months, even years waiting for exams. The VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center says that the backlog of requests constantly grows faster than they can provide exams and service to veterans in the area.

Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran worked the VAGLAMC until he was fired reporting the intentional destruction of veterans’ medical records. In an interview with The Daily Caller, Mitchell stated:

“The committee was called System Redesign and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to correct the department’s efficiency. And one of the issues at the time was the backlog.

“We just didn’t have the resources to conduct all of those exams. Basically we would get about 3,000 requests a month for [medical] exams, but in a 30-day period we only had the resources to do about 800. That rolls over to the next month and creates a backlog. It’s a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospitals efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.”

“[By 2008, some patients were] waiting six to nine months for an exam” and VA “didn’t know how to address the issue.”

“[VA Greater Los Angeles Radiology Department Chief Dr. Suzie El-Saden initiated an] ongoing discussion in the department [to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans’ medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus reducing the backlog.]”

“That actually happened. We had that discussion in November 2008 and then in March 2009 they started to delete the exams. Once you cancel or delete an order it automatically cancels out that record [so that no record of the exam requests remained.]”

When Mitchell saw how his fellow veterans were being denied their due medical coverage and how the VA was destroying records just to make themselves look good, he filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General. He describes what happened:

“I actually filed a complaint with the VA [Inspector General] IG and the office of special counsel. The IG requested if I had any documentation. They wanted names. I gave them [about] a thousand names. The list I turned into the IG went all the way back to 1997.”

“I filed the initial complaint with the IG. … The IG instead of doing their own investigation just gave it to the facility and made them aware of my complaint.”

Not getting anywhere with the VA Inspector General, Mitchell wrote to Congress about the matter in January 2011. In March of 2011, Mitchell was fired from his job with the LA VA. In April 2013, Mitchell received a letter from the US Office of Special Counsel that sounded like the government covering up and justifying the destruction of records. The letter informed him that starting in 2009:

“…all imaging services across the country were instructed to mass purge all outstanding imaging orders for studies older than six months, where the procedure was no longer needed . . . patient imaging requests found to still be valid were scheduled. … Approval was granted for this process by the MEC [Medical Executive Committee], and in collaboration with the Service Chiefs and/or Careline Directors within the health-care system.”

“It is the general policy of OSC not to transmit an allegation of wrongdoing to the head of the agency involved, where the agency’s OIG or its delegate, is currently investigating or has investigated, the same allegations. Consequently, this office will take no further action concerning this allegation.”

Mitchell says that when he was in the meeting where the destruction of records was discussed and put into action that it was just his department and had nothing to do with other VA’s around the country. He also firmly states that exam requests still necessary were destroyed simply because they were part of the backlog that made the VA hospital look bad.

My question is how do they know which exam requests were needed and which ones weren’t? Did they take the time to contact each exam applicant to make that determination or did they just go by the fact that they were older than six months and therefore automatically no longer necessary, which seems to be the case according to Mitchell.

Oliver Mitchell filed a lawsuit over wrongful termination along with another complaint last August. His suit was accepted by the court in September, but later dismissed with a request to amend the complaint with the addition of more facts. He said the amended complaint will be submitted to the court this week.

If I were Mitchell, I would be using the Whistleblower Protection Program as grounds for his wrongful termination, especially since it took place just after he wrote to Congress about his complaint.

But the fact is that VA hospitals across the nation seem to be arbitrarily destroying the medical records of veterans simple because they don’t have the personnel or capability to handle their exam requests. So after waiting for six months, what is a veteran supposed to do? Refile again for an exam? How long do our veterans have to wait before they receive the medical care they earned while serving our country?

This treatment of veterans is appalling and a national disgrace. Instead of giving handouts to deadbeats that don’t want to work, our government should be spending that money providing for our veterans who deserve it. But that won’t happen under Obama. He’d rather continue to cut funding to the military and to veterans so he can keep providing free cell phones, healthcare and other handouts to people who have no incentive to work or contribute to society.

I wonder what would happen if every veteran in the US gathered and surrounded the nation’s capital, demanding their just due? Do you think Obama or Congress would listen then?