The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may have subjected vets to long waits for medical care, but that federal bureaucracy has itself gone to the front of the line for an FBI criminal probe of its behavior. What has landed VA officials in hot water is not just the long waits for care, but bumping patients off of waiting lists so that the delays look less horrendous, and the VA appears to be doing a better job.
The suffering vets themselves though, may finally find relief outside of the much-criticized government-run Veterans Health Administration. The House and Senate have both voted to ease veterans' access to private medical care.
The VA's own inspector general found more patients (1,700) bumped off the lists than were actually on them (1,400). "As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment."
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing today, FBI Director James Comey revealed that the bureau is investigating VA officials' conduct, with a specific eye on whether they fiddled waiting lists in order to improve their job performance ratings—and resulting bonuses.
According to the Washington Post's Greg Jaffe:
The investigation, Comey told lawmakers, is being led by the FBI's field office in Phoenix, where allegations of fraud and fake waiting lists generated what has become a nationwide scandal.
The Justice Department, which asked the FBI to become involved in the matter, is responding in part to pressure from members of Congress who have repeatedly called for a criminal investigation. Earlier this week, the department's Office of Inspector General said it has expanded its own probe to 69 medical facilities and has contacted the Justice Department in cases where there are indications of potential criminal activity.
Given the VA Inspector General's report, revelations about deaths, and widespread outrage, the FBI's investigation is likely to be high-profile, with its results closely scrutinized.
Meanwhile, in an effort to give veterans an alternative to a system that has been criticized for both waiting times and the quality of care delivered to those who finally get to see a provider, the House and the Senate have both approved legislation that would give some vets access to private care. The Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 creates a two-year period during which veterans will be able to see private doctors if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility or if they have been waiting for more than 30 days for an appointment.
Complaints about VA care have repeatedly surfaced for many years.