Meehan: 'Incorrect bookkeeping' may be local VA finding

At the Philadelphia VA, at 3800 Woodland Ave., many veterans - but not all - express satisfaction with the treatment they have received.

Administrators at the Philadelphia and Horsham Veterans Affairs medical centers say their staff have not falsified appointment data to hide delays for patients, according to a local U.S. representative who met with them Monday.

Instead, Rep. Patrick Meehan said, "incorrect bookkeeping" may have prompted the VA to include the two facilities in its nationwide investigation of wait-time delays.

"They believe you will not see that there was any impropriety with regard to a cover-up or some kind of cooking the books," Meehan told reporters and a small group of veterans gathered outside the Horsham clinic, a plain building with blue awnings in an industrial park.

The Philadelphia VA Medical Center in University City and its Victor J. Saracini clinic in Horsham were among 112 facilities flagged in a VA audit released last week.

The report - which showed the depth of a scandal building for months - said staff at many facilities falsified records under pressure to hide waiting times for patients. But it did not specify what prompted the further reviews in Philadelphia, the regional hub for more than 57,000 veterans from Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey, and Horsham, which serves about 10,000 veterans.

Meehan, a Delaware County Republican whose district includes the Horsham clinic, said he had asked to discuss the issue with Philadelphia VA Director Daniel Hendee on Monday. He said Hendee and other administrators noted high turnover among those who schedule appointments, and other challenges with consistency in its scheduling practices.

Jennifer Askey, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia VA, said that Hendee was unavailable to comment and that she could not say what bookkeeping errors might have concerned VA auditors.

But she said local administrators did not believe the investigation would determine that appointment times were falsified. She also said that Hendee requested that the VA Office of Inspector General review the center's practices after having his own concerns over access times.

A spokesman from the Veterans Affairs office in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

The VA audit, which flagged about 15 percent of its facilities nationwide, found pervasive delays for care. About 57,400 veterans - 400 of them in Philadelphia - had been waiting 90 days or longer for their first appointments, the audit found. An additional 328 veterans in Philadelphia asked for an initial appointment over the last decade but never received one, the report said.

It also found dishonest scheduling was not uncommon, with about 13 percent of scheduling staff indicating they had been told by a supervisor to enter a different date from the one requested by a veteran - a tactic that could hide delays in getting appointments.

The culture that promoted those practices is still coming to light. According to a story Monday in the New York Times, hundreds of former and current VA employees have recently turned to whistle-blower and federal watchdog groups as well as unions and legislators to say they endured retaliation for complaining about dishonest appointment-setting procedures and other inappropriate practices.

Meehan said he was waiting for more details before drawing conclusions about the local facilities. But he said after pressing his staff "pretty hard" to find out if local veterans had complaints, he heard few. "Despite some pretty pointed efforts to try to tell them to tell me anything I should be hearing, for the most part, the report we're hearing is that care is good and timely," he said.

Several veterans at the clinic Monday agreed. John Hoffman, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran from Flourtown, said he had a standing appointment at the clinic every two months and had never had problems getting in when he needed to.

On Monday he decided to request a different time for his forthcoming appointments so he and his wife do not have to rush back from their Shore house for early-morning appointments after the weekend. He said he gave the receptionist three days that would work for him.

"No problem whatsoever," he said.

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny