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VA’s non-response to FOIA requests shows lack of commitment to transparency

By Sarah Shriver

VA’s non-response to FOIA requests shows lack of commitment to transparency

Grassroots veterans group highlights effort to increase VA accountability, transparency, and renewed pledge to serve veterans

 

ARLINGTON, Va.—Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) issued the following statement in response to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after the VA failed to respond to a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records about VA wait-times from VA headquarters and in medical centers across multiple states, including Arizona, Florida, Montana, and West Virginia.

Nearly 20 million VA appointments were either canceled or delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have yet to be rescheduled. Moreover, some evidence suggests the VA is inaccurately recording wait-time numbers, which gives a false impression of the agency’s performance and might explain the agency’s resistance towards public disclosure.

CVA Executive Director Nate Anderson released the following statement:

“When the pandemic hit, the VA acted as a barrier for veterans instead of working to ensure they could get the care they needed, arbitrarily limiting where they could go for care. Millions of appointments were delayed and canceled, community care referrals were shut down, and now we’re seeing a mounting backlog of appointments similar to the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal, which took veterans’ lives.

The information related to these FOIA requests would be invaluable for veterans and their advocates by highlighting where shortfalls exist, what needs to be improved, and how the VA can better address individual health care needs. Veterans deserve a VA that is transparent, responsive, and focused on empowering them with the freedom to seek quality care when and where they need it.”

The VA has faced repeated scandals in recent years over its mismanagement of patient scheduling systems and wait-time data. As detailed in AFPF’s complaint, publicly available records suggest another scandal is brewing, with the VA covering up wait-time numbers nationwide. The agency may be actively avoiding its obligations for transparent administration of the VA MISSION Act. Delayed care has tragic effects on the health of veterans.

AFPF Policy Counsel Ryan Mulvey issued the following statement:

“There is pressing public interest in how the VA is managing community care referrals and whether it is intentionally obscuring wait-time metrics. The VA was required by law to provide a timely response to AFPF’s FOIA requests; the agency has missed its deadlines without any semblance of a justification. 

Worse yet, the VA admits it has flagged AFPF’s FOIA requests for a special form of centralized political review. That will inevitably delay disclosure and, at worse, may lead to improper withholding. We look forward to the court ensuring the VA meets its FOIA obligations and provides full transparency into its wait-time data and interpretation of the community care access standards.”

You can view the lawsuit summary here.

AFPF’s complaint is available here, and the accompanying exhibits here.

BACKGROUND

About Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF)

AFPF educates and trains Americans to be courageous advocates for the ideas, principles, and policies of a free and open society.  Among other things, AFPF, through its grassroots education project and CVA’s sister organization, Concerned Veterans for America Foundation, educates and empowers veterans to lead healthy and prosperous lives, including educating on the privileges and benefits afforded to veterans under the law.

About the VA MISSION Act

The VA MISSION Act was developed with the goal of better integrating the VA with community health care providers, fixing structural issues with the VA’s outside care programs, and ultimately improving access to care while expanding the health care options available to veterans through the VA.

Notably, it was also endorsed by over 30 veteran service organizations (VSO) and was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support before being signed into law by President Trump in June 2018.