Tens of thousands of orders for diagnostic medical tests have been deleted en masse to reduce the backlog for VA medical treatment. In Los Angeles, about 40,000 appointments were administratively closed. In Dallas, about 13,000 were cancelled in 2012. So, the patients did not receive the testing, but the VA reduced its backlog.
Whether the practice is widespread is not known. Internal VA memos show that medical centers removed orders that were unnecessary because the patient had died or acquired tests from other providers; but, this explanation does not explain the en masse purges that have taken place. The purges are consistent with previous efforts to manipulate numbers for the purpose of reporting progress in relieving the tremendous backlog for treatment.
Failure to Provide Medical Tests for Vets May have Catastrophic Consequences
The failure to provide testing may have catastrophic consequences in some cases.
Between September 2012 and March 2013, the VA disclosed 19 deaths related to delayed endoscopy procedures. These deaths were first reported by CNN. An Inspector General investigation exposed at least six preventable deaths that were linked to delayed colonoscopies in Columbia, South Carolina.
Anecdotal evidence also supports the allegation that the VA Health Administration has manipulated statistics. Oliver Mitchell was a scheduling clerk at the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center. He also served as a Marine. He filed a whistleblower complaint in 2009 about the VA purging appointments. In November 2008, he was told to purge backlogged appointments for diagnostic testing. This violated VA policy at the time. In 2011, Mitchell settled with the VA for damages from whistleblower retaliation.
Congressional inquiries have been made, but the investigations have not been able to discover how many tests were cancelled. Given the magnitude of these purges, we can expect Congress to investigate further.