No Montgomery VA employees fired for altering schedules, Rep. Martha Roby says: 'I was misled'
Rep. Martha Roby said she was misled over the fate of Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System employees caught up in a scheduling scandal and in fact no workers involved in the situation have been terminated.
An audit released this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General showed CAVHCS facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee altered schedules to hide actual times veterans were waiting for healthcare. At the time, Roby, R-Montgomery, said she was told by CAVHCS Director James Talton that employees responsible for the scheduling discrepancies had been terminated.
On Wednesday, Roby said she learned that's not the case.
"Last week, in a meeting he requested, Director Talton made it clear to me and my District Director that those responsible for falsifying wait list records in Central Alabama were no longer working at the VA, due in part to action he took to remove them," Roby said. "I have now learned that wasn't true. No one has been fired. That means the employees responsible for falsifying wait list records are still working at the VA in Alabama."
Calls to CAVHCS seeking comment were not returned.
Roby said she had receives assurances over the weekend that the employees had been held responsible for wrongdoing, including termination for cause. Roby said her office made multiple attempts to verify the terminations, including an inquiry to acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. On Tuesday, Roby said Talton acknowledged by phone that no terminations took place.
"Director Talton apologized for what he called a 'misunderstanding' over him repeatedly saying employees had been 'relieved of their duties.' However, the unmistakable tenor of Friday's conversation and his failure to correct the record after three days of saturating news coverage tell me this wasn't a misunderstanding at all. I believe I was misled," Roby said.
In addition to altered schedules, the VA audit showed patients using CAVHCS facilities faced some of the longest wait times in the country. In Alabama, the average wait time for new patients using the Birmingham facility is 31.08 days. 46.7 days in Tuscaloosa and 48.6 days in Mobile. That number grows to 74.56 days for the CAVHCS facilities.
Roby said this latest incident is an example of the "cover-your-own-back mentality" that has caused problems at the VA.
"Remember that the issue at hand is the falsification of records to hide poor performance," she said. "For Director Talton to give the false impression that appropriate action had been taken when it actually had not is emblematic of the backward priorities within the VA bureaucracy.
"If a member of Congress can't get a straight answer from the VA, just think what our veterans go through on a daily basis."
Roby said she will continue to investigate the situation at CAVHCS facilities.
"This breach of trust has caused my office to dig even deeper into what is really going on in Montgomery. I believe there is more to this story," she said.