Last week Robert Petzel resigned from his position at the Department of Veterans Affairs following his testimony which revealed that he knew that VA health facilities had been using improper scheduling practices for years. Earlier this week, Washington Post’s Josh Hicks provided the smoking gun memo that proves the VA knew of the inappropriate practices as early as 2010.
After whistleblowers brought the illegal scheduling practices to light, VA officials have found themselves under fire. In what many perceive as a scapegoat scenario, Petzel took the fall last week after he admitted knowing of a 2010 memo presented as evidence by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
The memo from William Schoenhard, a top VA executive, warned VA health network directors that inappropriate scheduling practices would “not be tolerated,” providing at least 17 tactics used by hospitals to hide delays and mislead about patient response periods.
When Isakson asked how the VA responded to make sure Schoenhard's instructions had been followed, Petzel insisted that the VA had been working “very hard” to eliminate the practices:
Petzel responded: “We have worked very hard, Senator Isakson, to root out these inappropriate uses of the scheduling system and these abuses. We have been working continuously to try and identify where those sites are and what we need to do to prevent that from happening. It’s absolutely inexcusable.”
Isakson then asked what the VA did to reprimand employees who tried to hide delays.
Petzel could not recall a specific example, but he said that “if someone were found to be manipulating inappropriately the scheduling system, they would be disciplined.”
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is under increased fire this week, provided more details, stating that in the last two years the department removed 6,000 employees for performance or misconduct issues. However, as Hicks points out, Shinseki did not make clear how many of those employees were cut for concealing scheduling delays.
Below is Schoenhard's memo, dated April 26, 2010: