WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S Representative Martha Roby today called the attention of Congress and the nation to the “mismanagement, malfeasance, and cover-up” at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) in an impassioned speech from the House floor.
Explaining how the patient scheduling scheme began to unravel, Rep. Roby listed the several instances of misconduct that have been exposed in recent weeks. Rep. Roby also announced that she and Alabama Senator Richard Shelby together are calling on new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to visit the Montgomery-based facility and reform it.
Below is the complete transcript of Rep. Roby’s remarks from the House floor. The letter sent by Rep. Roby and Senator Shelby to Sec. McDonald is attached.
Mr. Speaker I rise today to share with this Congress and with this nation the story of mismanagement, malfeasance, negligence, and cover-up at the Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System or CAVHCS.
I know most of my colleagues can point to at least some problems at the VA systems in their states. But what has transpired in my hometown of Montgomery and Central Alabama rises to a level of misconduct and mistrust I’m not sure many other systems can match.
I do this not to simply disparage the system for no reason. I do this to shine the light on some truly disturbing practices so we can finally clean up the mess. I do this so that the 50,000 plus veterans that depend on the Central Alabama VA can one day have confidence in a health care system we promised them.
After Phoenix, when the scheduling scheme began to unravel, it was revealed in early June that the Central Alabama VA had one of the worst wait times in the country. It was particularly bad for mental health patients.
I actually met with our local VA director who acknowledged the discrepancies and tried to reassure me by leading me to believe that action had been taken to remove those responsible.
It turns out that wasn’t true. No one was fired.
Mr. Speaker, if a Member of Congress can’t get a straight answer from the VA, imagine what our veterans go through every single day.
In the wake of this clear breach of trust, we began digging deeper to find out what was really going on at the Central Alabama VA. The information we have received from sources who came forward was alarming. It is also consistent with the reports gathered by independent inspectors and some great investigative reporters.
Here is what is being uncovered:
A Montgomery VA pulmonologist manipulated more than 1,200 patient records to show test that never occurred. After being caught, the doctor was never fired or suspended. He actually was caught manipulating records again, but somehow went on to receive a “satisfactory” performance review.
At least 900 unread patient X-RAY tests - many showing malignancies - were lost over a five year period. When the tests were discovered recently, top hospital administrators tried to cover up the problem.
Email records show the Central Alabama VA director was alerted to concerns over patient scheduling discrepancies more than eight months before taking action.
And finally, Mr. Speaker, perhaps the strongest evidence yet has emerged that the rampant scheduling manipulation in Central Alabama wasn’t some misunderstanding at all, but rather a facility-led, standard operating procedure.
More than 57 percent of staff surveyed at Central Alabama said they receive “instruction” to manipulate patient wait times. 57 percent.
Mr. Speaker, that’s off the charts. The national average is 12.7 percent, and the other systems near Montgomery aren’t even close.
There’s clearly a systemic problem in Montgomery, and it needs to be corrected. That’s why I have joined with Senator Richard Shelby to write the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to call his attention to the Central Alabama VA.
Specifically, Senator Shelby and I are asking Secretary McDonald to review these instances of mismanagement, visit CAVHCS with us, and develop a plan of action to reform the Central Alabama system.
It is important to remember that thousands of doctors, nurses, and public servants at the VA work very hard every day to give veteran patients the best healthcare we can offer. Their service is honorable, and it is a shame it is overshadowed now by a system that too often fails those it was created to help.
Mr. Speaker we cannot allow the American people to forget about this. We cannot allow the news media to move on to the next story.
I hear from veterans every day who are depending on us to make this right. This will be an uphill battle, I know that. But it is a fight we have to fight.
We have to change this culture of complacency. That starts with new leadership, and I look forward to working with Secretary McDonald.
Thank you Mr. Speaker, I yield back.