Congressmen demand to see ‘secret waitlists’ of veterans seeking care at VA

Abbie Bennett
June 05, 2019 - 1:18 pm

Getty Images

Two members of Congress are demanding that the Veterans Administration release “secret waitlists” of veterans seeking health care.

House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., issued a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie Wednesday demanding the alleged lists, after a whistleblower claim first reported by The Washington Post. The congressman and senator demanded that the VA provide an explanation about the allegations by the end of the week.

The Post describes reports from a VA whistleblower showing two sets of different wait time numbers. The data in the reports “indicate the actual number of veterans waiting for VA healthcare could be much higher than the numbers VA makes publicly available,” according to the Post.

“The differences appear quite large, with monthly wait time average in the internal VA report roughly three times as large as that shown in VA data made public,” Takano and Tester’s letter reads.

In the last year, the monthly average number of veterans on the VA’s public electronic waitlist was 14,971. But the whistleblower’s lists show a monthly average of more than 44,000.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour, in an emailed statement to Connecting Vets, disputes the allegations, saying that the VA’s electronic waitlist has two components -- “one administrative and one clinical.”

The clinical list, according to Cashour, is the public list which tracks the number of veterans awaiting medical treatment.

The administrative list, Cashour said, is the second set of numbers which “has nothing to do with the waits for medical treatment” and instead is used to “track routine actions, such as facility and provider transfer requests.” Because the administrative list doesn’t have anything to do with waits for medical treatment, the VA says it does not post that list publicly, since it “would only create confusion.”

The whistleblower who reported the lists to the Post is Jereme P. Whiteman, the national director of clinic practice management at the VA and a Marine veteran. Whiteman told the Post he reached out to the paper after going through the chain of command and filing official complaints months earlier, including an email to VA leadership that said the lists “could be seen as VA hiding a very large waitlist of veterans waiting extremely long for care.”  

In 2014, whistleblower allegations revealed major issues with veteran wait time for health care appointments at the VA, which were later substantiated and investigations further showed hospitals misrepresented and skewed data to cover up the problems.

But both Takano and Tester said the VA’s made progress, so “it was therefore surprising to see reports of new and serious allegations … concerning hidden wait times for veterans.”

Want to get more connected to the great stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Follow Abbie Bennett, @AbbieRBennett.