OMAHA, Neb. — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials say an unauthorized, secret waiting list for psychotherapy appointments at Omaha’s VA hospital delayed care for 87 veterans this year.
Letters addressed to Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse — all Republicans — blamed the unauthorized list on “training deficiencies” involving the hospital’s medical support assistants, the Omaha World-Herald reported Saturday.
The VA’s response to Sasse said no employees were fired, but one employee who was involved retired and another resigned. It also said no bonuses were paid based on performance data implicated in the investigation of the secret lists.
Officials said the investigation is continuing into whether more lower-ranking employees in the VA’s Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System were responsible. That should be completed by the end of the month.
“Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken if warranted,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in his letters to the senators.
Shulkin said the affected veterans did receive other types of treatment while their names were on the list, including substance-abuse treatment, inpatient treatment and counseling through primary care or Veteran’s Center clinics.
Shulkin’s response did not say whether any of the veterans were told about the delays.
The list, first reported by the Omaha World-Herald, dodged strict VA requirements for establishing and maintaining waiting lists, according to a compliance officer’s memo to the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System. The compliance officer’s audit included whistleblower complaints made about unauthorized lists for appointments at the VA’s mental health psychotherapy clinic in Omaha.
The VA set up strict requirements for establishing waiting lists following a 2014 scandal that showed VA employees were covering up chronic delays with false paperwork and secret lists. It was reported in 2016 that 40 medical facilities maintained secret lists. The Omaha facility had not been among those 40.