Chief of Specialty Care Clinics and Scheduling Operations at the Phoenix VA Health Care System and former Army infantry officer, Cuauhtemoc Rodriguez, has again filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) against the Phoenix VA system claiming VA doctors are refusing to see patients during available work hours - contributing to the dangerous appointment wait times seen in the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal.
Rodriguez has also filed an anti-retaliation suit against executives who he claims are threatening termination in response to his complaint.
Whistleblower Alleges Phoenix VA Doctors Cancel 35% Appointments, Refuse to Schedule Appointments (Subtitle)
Cuauhtemoc Rodriguez first brought up allegations that physicians were blocking off valuable appointment times in March 2016, claiming VA psychiatrists were making themselves unavailable to patients for between three and five hours per day. Rodriguez also alleged physicians were cancelling veteran appointments at rates of up to 35% – causing veteran wait times for care to exceed 400 days. Target wait times for VA hospitals are 14 days.
Rodriguez’s most recent complaint alleges that veterans are still waiting over 150 days for mental health care and that executives are continuing to permit VA psychiatrists to schedule large blocks of time off or cancel appointments - making them unavailable to see veterans for care.
In a particularly disturbing allegation, Rodriguez claims the Phoenix VA hospital has more than 700 appointments listed as “cancelled by patient” when the patient had died before the date of cancellation.
2015 OIG Investigation: 87 Patients Died After Phoenix VA Cancellations
Rodriguez’s allegations follow a July 2015 inspector general investigation into the Phoenix VA Health Care System, from which OIG concluded that:
- 87 patients died waiting for appointments with 116 open consults
- Non-providers cancelled consults for vascular patients (potentially to hide a patient’s death while waiting for an appointment)
- Waitlists for consults contained over 35,000 patients
- Patients waited over 300 days for vascular care
- 1,100 veterans waited over 30 days for a doctor’s appointment
The inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that one veteran died while waiting for a cardiology appointment that could have saved his life.
In the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal, investigators found that at least 40 United States Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for medical care at the VA hospital. Audits released in June 2014 reported that over 120,000 veterans were waiting for appointments and that executives pressured staff to hide the wait times by falsifying appointment records. The 2014 scandal resulted in a $1 million FBI criminal investigation, the termination of numerous hospital administrators and the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Rodriguez Files Whistleblower Anti-Retaliation Suit Against Phoenix VA Execs
Under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), current and former employees of federal agencies, contractors and grantees who report claims of misconduct or gross mismanagement are protected from retaliation. The WPA makes it unlawful for agencies to take (or threaten to take) personnel action (poor performance evaluations, demotion, suspension, termination) against an employee because they reported wrongdoing or disclosed information to the OIG.
The WPA protects whistleblowers who report:
- Violation of law, rule or regulation
- Gross waste of funds
- Abuse of authority
- Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
In May 2016, Rodriguez filed an anti-retaliation suit claiming that his Phoenix VA Associate Directors and Department Chiefs have responded to his complaints via threats, defamation and discrimination. He has stated that the Phoenix VA accuses him of violating privacy standards and has threatened him with reprimand and removal.
Whistleblowers who report wrongdoing by the VA or VA hospitals help protect our nation’s veterans and hold our government accountable for its actions.
If you have experienced prolonged wait times for appointments with VA health services, our experienced attorneys are ready to assist you. Our nationwide veteran’s disability law practice, Gang & Associates, is dedicated to helping veterans fight against unfair treatment by the VA healthcare system. We work diligently to ensure that our veterans receive quality care so that they can live productive and fulfilling lives.