KSN’s exclusive look inside Wichita’s Dole VA Hospital

WICHITA, Kansas – An official with the Wichita Veterans Affairs medical center says 385 veterans were on an unauthorized list of those waiting for care, some for more than 90 days.

U.S. Congressman Tim Huelskamp invited KSN to go inside Wichita’s Robert J. Dole VA Hospital and Medical Center to ask questions.

“This is the same sort of thing we saw out of Phoenix,” says Huelskamp. “No answers, no answers. Stonewalling and finally it all breaks.”

Going inside the Wichita VA, Huelskamp found the Director of the facility, Francisco Vazquez, was in Denver to attend a leadership conference.

“I have been asking for days to get answers,” Huelskamp asked the Acting Director. “Has the Director not been getting my emails or phone calls?”

Acting Director Carol Kaster answer sat down to talk to the Congressman.

“Our director isn’t here right now. He is the best one that you need to speak with,” said Kaster. “We are not turning you away. We know the director is the best person for you to talk with.”

Congressman Huelskamp says he wants answers as to why there is a list of 385 veterans on a so-called “secret list” of those waiting 90 days or more for certain types of home care.

Huelskamp also talked with Interim Chief of Staff, Dr. Jim Parker.

“We really have been directed to not offer a lot of information at this time,” said Dr. Parker. “I am just… the instructions we have, are to stand down regarding questions and information until the further instructions come from (washington D.C. Headquarters.”

KSN talked, exclusively, inside the VA with Huelskamp after his meeting.

“It’s unfortunate the director is not here at this time. I have been asking for answers since I learned there was a (“secret”) list last Friday,” said Huelskamp. “They’ve (Wichita VS Director) got 24 hours to get me a full report. I want answers. This is not serving the best interests of our veterans. We need to make certain veterans are getting timely care. I’m not saying this is another Phoenix situation. But I want to know if they are hiding anything. I’m still not getting answers.”

While officials at the VA didn’t have any immediate answers, Huelskamp says he will hold them to that 24 hour deadline.

The secret list was similar to one maintained by a VA campus in Arizona that included 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments for more than 90 days.

Vazquez has been the Director of the Wichita VA for less than a year. In a KSN interview about two weeks ago, Vazquez said he is working hard to ensure the best care for veterans.

“I am a veteran. My father served,” said Vazquez. “My son is going to be a veteran one day. I am in this for the long haul. Our nation’s heroes deserve the best possible care.”

RELATED LINK:
Letter to Kansas Senators from Wichita VA

Sen. Roberts’ full statement on the VA scandal:

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, the most Senior Marine in the Congress, today demanded answers from the Director of the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center (MC) in Wichita about the treatment and status of veterans needing in-home care that were managed on a list unauthorized by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Roberts also alerted the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to his concerns with the Wichita VAMC.

“According to media reports, the transition from hospital to in-home care for 385 veterans was managed on an unauthorized list at the Wichita VA,” Roberts said. “The VA determined this list put veterans at risk. My first priority is to ensure these 385 veterans have the services they need. And then we need to fix the mismanagement that put these patients at risk.”

Also at issue are disparities between information presented to Senator Roberts during a meeting with staff at the Robert J. Dole VAMC in Wichita, a letter from the VISN 15, the VA network that overseas Kansas VA facilities, and the follow-up letter sent to Senator Roberts’ Wichita office just a few hours later.

The following is text of a letter Senator Roberts sent to Francisco Vazquez, Director of the Robert J. Dole VAMC in Wichita: (A pdf of the letter is here)

Director Francisco Vazquez
Department of Veterans Affairs
Robert J. Dole Medical and Regional Office Center
5500 East Kellogg
Wichita, KS 67218

 

Dear Director Vazquez:

I am writing in regards to your letter dated May 30, 2014. I am very concerned with disparities between information presented to me during my meeting with your staff and the follow-up letter sent to my Wichita office just a few hours later.

On May 30, 2014, at 9 a.m. I met with representatives from the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. During the visit, members of your staff discussed their frustration with the antiquated Veterans Health Administration scheduling system and human resource policies that negatively impact the level of veteran care. Also, your staff mentioned that the medical center used a spreadsheet to keep track of some scheduling requests. At that time, I left the meeting with the understanding that the delivery of care provided by the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center was not under further scrutiny.

Unfortunately, later in the afternoon on May 30, a fax written by you and signed by Associate Director Vickie Bondie was sent to my Wichita office. In the letter you state that an unauthorized scheduling list, more commonly known as a “secret waiting list,” was discovered at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center and investigations for accountability were ongoing. During my meeting earlier in the day with your staff, this information was not disclosed to me. Nor was there any mention that the medical center terminated the use of the spreadsheet referenced in the meeting.

I would like to know why this information was not presented to me during my meeting with your staff. Additionally, I would like to know how many veterans on the unauthorized list were placed at risk. Is there any other information about veteran care, or the delay of such care, that has not been disclosed to me? More generally, is there any additional information about the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center that you believe I should know given the circumstances of the situation that has developed nationally?

Due to my concerns with the way this information was withheld from me during my meeting with your staff and later sent to my office, I am forwarding a synopsis of the situation to the VA Inspector General.

I appreciate your commitment to ensure our Kansas veterans receive the quality care they deserve, but this lack of transparency gives me great concern. I hope that we can work together moving forward to address the challenges facing the Kansas VA medical centers so that our veterans receive the care our country has committed to give them for their service and sacrifice.

Sincerely,

 

Pat Roberts

The following is text of the letter to Richard J. Griffin, Acting Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs: (a pdf of the letter is here)

Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin
Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of Inspector General
801 I St., NW
Washington, DC 20001

 

Dear Acting Inspector General Griffin:

I am writing in regards to a matter at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, which I believe calls for your immediate attention. As the VA Inspector General, you are responsible for conducting independent oversight of the VA and have the resources to investigate this situation.

First, let me outline a meeting I had with the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center and a follow-up letter I received last Friday, May 30, 2014. I want to make you aware of the disparities between information presented to me during my meeting with the medical center staff and the follow-up letter sent to my Wichita office just a few hours later.

On May 30, 2014, at 9 a.m. I met with representatives from the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. During the visit, members of the staff discussed their frustration with the antiquated Veterans Health Administration scheduling system and human resource policies that negatively impact the level of veteran care. Also, the staff mentioned that the medical center used a spreadsheet to keep track of some scheduling requests. At that time, I left the meeting with the understanding that the delivery of care provided by the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center was not under further scrutiny.

Unfortunately, later in the afternoon on May 30, a fax written by Director Francisco Vasquez and signed by Associate Director Vickie Bondie was sent to my Wichita office. I have enclosed the letter for your reference. The letter stated that an unauthorized scheduling list, more commonly known as a “secret waiting list,” was discovered at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center and investigations for accountability were ongoing. During my meeting earlier in the day with staff, this information was not disclosed to me. Nor was there any mention that the medical center terminated the use of the spreadsheet referenced in the meeting. Just today, the media has reported that 385 veterans have been waiting on the unauthorized scheduling list at the medical center. I am troubled that this information was withheld from me during my meeting with the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center.

Additionally, on May 28, I received a letter from VISN 15 stating that there were 21 veterans waiting over 90 days for primary care appointments at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. This letter is also enclosed for your reference. The letter sent to me on May 30, by the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center listed only nine veterans waiting over 90 days. The inconsistencies between the two letters, sent two days apart are alarming.

On Friday, June 6, I have a meeting with the Kansas City VA Medical Center. I look forward to a candid discussion about the delivery of veteran care and if any other unauthorized scheduling lists in VISN 15 were being used at this facility.

Given the circumstances that have developed nationwide with the VA, I think it is necessary that we know the exact numbers of veterans on the unauthorized list at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, if veterans were placed at risk, and if there was other information about veteran care, or the delay of such care, that has not been disclosed by the medical center.

I appreciate your attention on this matter, and I hope that we can work together moving forward to address the challenges facing the Kansas VA medical centers.

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