Report Finds Employee Fraud at Veterans Affairs Health Care Facilities
A review of 46 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers found "rampant mismanagement of funds and overpayment of both physicians and beneficiaries," VA Inspector General Richard Griffin yesterday told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. In testimony in the first of a series of hearings about spending and fraud in the VA, Griffin said the report showed that 72% of beneficiaries in prison were still receiving the same level of benefits they had received prior to incarceration. In addition, $2.5 million was erroneously paid to 594 beneficiaries in the Philippines who were not eligible for benefits. Other findings revealed that some VA employees have conducted "elaborate scams" to receive money; one employee created a false account and received checks for 12 years, while some employees at the VA Medical Centers in Boston and Atlanta stole $11.2 million worth of the prescription painkiller Oxycontin, the Star-Ledger reports. In 23 of the facilities studied, part-time physicians had received regular payments despite a lack of records indicating that they had provided treatment, according to the report. Surgeons at six different facilities had been found to be performing surgery elsewhere while simultaneously billing VA facilities for that time (Casiano, Newark Star-Ledger, 5/9). According to Griffin, of 153 surgeons, 70 spent less than 25% of their billed time in direct patient care (Abrams, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/8). "Our results clearly showed that part-time physicians were not working the hours established in their VA appointments, and as a result part-time physicians were not meeting their employment obligations," Griffin said (Newark Star-Ledger, 5/9).
VA Deputy Secretary Dr. Leo Mackay said in an interview that the agency regards staffing problems as "very serious," adding that he and VA Secretary Anthony Principi requested the review to identify "systematic issues that need to be addressed." Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the committee, said, "[T]his abuse is a symptom of the department's refusal to decide how many physicians are needed at each medical center it operates" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/8). Griffin said that better records and funds management practices could help prevent and curtail fraud in the VA system (Newark Star-Ledger, 5/9). ABCNews' "World News Tonight" yesterday reported on the audit. The segment includes comments from American Legion National Commander Ronald Conley, Griffin, Mackay and Joseph Violante of the Disabled American Veterans (Cochran, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 5/8). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.