The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to drag its feet on producing records requested under the Freedom of Information Act and now the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
The suit, filed by Americans for Prosperity Foundation in July 2021, seeks to know how the VA is calculating veterans’ appointment wait times and how the department is managing the Community Care Program.
Established in 2019, community care allows veterans to use their VA benefits at a facility of their choice if they meet certain criteria, including:
- VA wait times or drive times are too long
- A doctor decides it’s in the veteran’s best medical interest to go to a different facility
The VA has continually found ways to get around these standards so it can keep vets in its system.
And it’s doing so regardless of the harm to veterans.
VA is using manipulative scheduling practices
Documents AFP Foundation has already analyzed confirm the VA is using manipulative scheduling practices to determine community care eligibility.
VA schedulers have been instructed, and even trained, to schedule appointments according to a “patient indicated date” rather than the date that the veteran actually asked for an appointment.
Conveniently for the VA, the “patient indicated date” is a date they pick close to the next available appointment so that community care eligibility isn’t triggered.
To avoid wait times that exceed eligibility standards, schedulers will make, cancel, and reschedule appointments — often without the veteran’s knowledge or consent. The FOIA lawsuit has also revealed staff training phone scripts that discourage and mislead veterans about the community care process.
All told, the VA has made a habit of skirting the law. And that is just what we know from the public documents.
VA is producing duplicate records in FOIA response
Because the available information is so bad, it makes sense that the VA would try to keep more documentation out of the public’s view.
The department continues to waste time by producing hundreds of duplicate records.
The VA could instead be sending duplicates and stalling the FOIA process to hide more evidence it isn’t following the law. Those materials could also be embarrassing or politically damaging.
“There’s a likelihood the VA does not want the records released because the agency isn’t following the MISSION Act,” Ryan said.
WFLA has joined AFP Foundation in filing FOIA requests with the VA and is telling the stories of veterans who are benefiting from community care.
But as of the date of this publication, the VA still owes thousands of documents to AFP Foundation, and is subject to a federal court order to meet a production quota each month.
“We’re going to continue to hold the VA accountable and use all the tools at our disposal to speed up the disclosure of the requested records,” Ryan told CVA. “Veterans—and all Americans—deserve to know how the VA is managing veterans’ care.”
We’ll keep you updated on what those documents reveal.
Read the heartbreaking story of a wheelchair-bound veteran who has been battling the VA for access to community care for years.