Department of Veterans Affairs

Thousands of Tests at VA Hospitals May Have Been Cancelled Improperly

Nine hospitals now face audits.


|||Danny Raustadt/
Danny Raustadt/

It's happened again and again—about 250,000 times since 2016, in fact. A patient arrives at a Veterans Affairs hospital for a CAT scan, an ultrasound, or some other diagnostic procedure. Then he or she discovers that the service had been cancelled. And no one is sure why.

Jeff Dettbarn, a radiology technologist at a VA hospital in Iowa City, started documenting such cancellations early last year. Since then, VA Inspector General Michael Missal has announced an audit for nine VA medical centers in Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and California. The audit will "determine whether VA processed radiology requests in a timely manner and appropriately managed canceled requests," Missal tells USA Today.

What happened? Lisa Bickford, an administrative staffer at Dettbarn's hospital, has testified that the hospital's chief radiologist instructed the employees to "clean" incomplete orders in an effort to address a growing backlog. Thousands of diagnostics orders were then cancelled over the span of a few weeks; the national VA's cancellation guidelines may have been violated in the process. In a video interview with USA Today, Dettbarn says he saw as many as 30 to 50 poorly justified cancellations issued at a time.

Bryan Clark, a spokesperson for the hospital, insists to USA Today that the failure to follow the guidelines occured only in "small number of instances."

Dettbarn now faces disciplinary action. Neither the hospital nor the agency is willing to identify his alleged offense unless Dettbarn gives them written permission to do so, and Dettbarn has not given them that permission. He has, however, speculated to USA Today that the move was retaliatory.