Below is a letter U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General calling for an investigation into the VA system in Alaska. Specifically, Murkowski wants the IG’s office to look at allegations of whistleblower retaliation around scheduling issues at the VA clinic in Anchorage and staff shortages at the clinic in the Wasilla. Both the New York Times and the Mat-Su Frontiersman have recently reported about the issues in Anchorage and Wasilla, respectively.
Problems at the Anchorage clinic highlighted by the New York Times date back as far as 2008. From most accounts, the VA facility in Anchorage is now well run. However, for the sake of transparency, Murkowski thinks that an investigation is warranted.
The outpatient clinic in Wasilla isn’t said to run so smoothly. The clinic’s sole provider left recently, and no permanent provider is assigned to the clinic, which has a high case-load.
Alaska has the largest population of vets per capita in the U.S. Until recently, the problems with the VA system, unlike elsewhere, have remained out of the headlines, save for the issue being used as political fodder by both sides in the Senate race.
Here’s Murkowski’s letter:
Allegations of Dr. Jacqueline Brecht Regarding Waiting Lists at the Anchorage VA Outpatient Clinic – On Sunday June 15, 2014, the New York Times reported allegations by Dr. Jacqueline Brecht, a former urologist at the Anchorage outpatient clinic that she was retaliated against for questioning scheduling practices in the 2005-2008 timeframe. My office first became aware of Dr. Brecht’s allegations on June 6, 2014 following a telephone call to my staff from Dr. Brecht. During that telephone call, Dr. Brecht indicated that she had already reported her concerns to the VA Office of Inspector General. However, this is not the first time that we received anecdotal evidence of scheduling issues at the Anchorage VA during that specific timeframe. On May 14, 2014, I wrote to former Secretary Shinseki asking that the VA investigate scheduling discrepancies at the Anchorage VA dating back to the inception of the Iraq conflict. In light of the national controversy surrounding VA scheduling and allegations of personal misconduct by individuals at the Anchorage VA I have arrived at the conclusion that it is more appropriate that these issues be investigated by OIG. Regardless of whether the scheduling discrepancies Dr. Brecht alleges are still occurring it is important that her allegations be thoroughly investigated and the outcome of that investigation be transparent to Alaska’s veterans.
Quality of Care at the Wasilla (Mat-Su) Community Based Outpatient Clinic – The Wasilla Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) serves a rising veteran population residing in Alaska’s fastest growing geographic region. Veterans have long complained about scheduling issues at the clinic which was assigned only one provider. That provider resigned this spring. There are currently no permanent providers assigned to the Wasilla CBOC. In response to veteran concerns I inserted language in the Senate Appropriations Committee report to accompany the Fiscal Year 2015 MILCON/VA appropriations bill requiring that the VA report to Congress on persistent problems at the Wasilla CBOC. The OIG last visited the Wasilla CBOC during the week of November 5, 2012 but conducted a limited review focused on women’s health, vaccinations, provider credentialing, and environmental safety and emergency management. It appears that OIG completely missed longstanding concerns about provider workload and its relationship to veteran access and quality of care in that review. I respectfully request that OIG return to Wasilla at its earliest convenience to review recent operations at the Wasilla CBOC. The urgency of such a review is reflected in an editorial which appeared in The Frontiersman, the newspaper of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, on Saturday June 14, 2014, which is attached.
Senator Murkowski has been focused on the ongoing issues at the Wasilla CBOC. Most recently, she successfully inserted a provision in the FY2015 VA/Military Construction funding bill calling for a review of the facility’s staffing problems. Murkowski is concerned that a 2012 IG investigation of the Wasilla facility focused on the wrong issues. According to Murkowski’s letter, the “OIG completely missed longstanding concerns about provider workload and its relationship to veteran access and quality of care in that review.
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