AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Department of Veterans Affairs employee in San Antonio who reported fraudulent scheduling practices says officials tried to stop him from speaking publicly and blamed problems on low-level scheduling clerks.
Claims by Brian Turner, who works at San Antonio's North Central Federal Clinic, were part of a wave of allegations of systematic delays in veterans' care that ultimately led to Friday's resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The VA's inspector general reported this week that data manipulation occurs systemically throughout the VA.
In a letter obtained Friday by the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1u20Km9 ), Turner detailed how San Antonio VA officials reacted after he began reporting scheduling manipulation to his superiors in late April. The letter was sent Friday by Turner's attorney to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Turner's allegations were first reported May 6 by the newspaper.
Turner said scheduling clerks in Austin, San Antonio and Waco were regularly told to enter false scheduling information to make it appear that wait times for appointments were far shorter than they really were.
Turner says that on April 25 he was ordered by an official with South Texas Veterans Health Care System through an intermediary to stop emailing or asking about VA scheduling practices.
He also says in the letter that on May 2 another official with the San Antonio VA "forcefully placed pressure on the clerks to take responsibility for the VA's improper scheduling practices, while claiming that he and other supervisors were unaware of the fraudulent practices."
In Austin, VA officials have acknowledged that schedulers improperly failed to use an electronic wait list tool that could reveal lengthy wait times, but they have called it a "training issue" that top administrators didn't know about.
In response to questions Friday, the San Antonio VA officials said in a statement: "We're not aware of any retaliation. We investigated his allegations listed below and they could not be substantiated."
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said Friday he called for a House Veterans Affairs Committee investigation into Turner's claims of retaliation.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com