WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs for accurate information on appointment wait times for Iowa veterans after agency officials appeared to mislead his staff about lengthy waits. The VA reiterated that no wait times beyond 90 days existed, when a whistleblower produced data to Grassley staff showing that as of March 2017, hundreds of Iowa veterans were waiting between one and two years for an appointment.
“Had the Committee not obtained the actual numbers independently from a whistleblower, we would not have known the truth,” Grassley wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin. “Thus, the appearance of an attempt to mislead the Committee about the extent of the wait times in these facilities is extremely disturbing.”
Grassley called the lengthy wait times “completely unacceptable.” Grassley’s letter outlined what appears to be the VA’s attempt to mislead his staff after lengthy follow-up verbally and in writing. He sought a breakdown of every type of appointment that has not been fulfilled beyond 30 days and an explanation of what the VA is doing to alleviate the backlog.
Grassley has been pursuing wait time information for appointments in Des Moines and Iowa City since February. After weeks of follow-up, the VA produced the wrong documentation. When the VA purported to produce the right documentation, it directly contradicted the information Grassley was given by a whistleblower.
In a follow-up meeting and emails, VA staff personally reported to Committee staff that there were no wait times over 90 days. Upon further follow-up, the VA attributed the contradiction to a “misunderstanding” between the VA and Grassley staff.
“It is difficult to believe the inaccurate information that the VA provided, which hid the true extent of lengthy wait times at two Iowa facilities, was merely due to a misunderstanding,” Grassley wrote, outlining the detailed communication between the VA and his staff.
Grassley said he will continue to pursue accurate wait time information about VA appointments in Iowa. Grassley also is a co-sponsor of legislation before the Senate today that would make it easier to fire poorly performing VA employees.
“How can veterans, Congress and the public have confidence that the VA is turning itself around when it apparently misrepresents basic facts?” Grassley said. “The VA has to come clean about wait times in Iowa and the rest of the country. Misleading Congress and the public about wait times raises concern that the VA is stuck in the old mindset of going along to get along. We need to get past the point of burying bad news or the VA will never reliably deliver what veterans deserve – good health care in a timely manner.”
Grassley’s April 14 letter to the VA on the wait time discrepancy is available here. The VA’s May 26 response is available here. Grassley’s June 2 letter to the VA is available here.