Portland's VA once investigated for unauthorized wait lists

Portland's VA once investigated for unauthorized wait lists »Play Video

Under intense pressure to resign, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down Friday. Before meeting with President Barack Obama, Shinseki apologized for veterans being forced to wait more than 100 days to get medical appointments.

An internal audit released Friday found questionable scheduling practices and a "systemic lack of integrity" at some facilities.

KATU’s On Your Side Investigators discussed these developments with a former high-ranking VA official, and discovered Portland’s VA hospital was once investigated for unauthorized wait lists.

Senior officials at Portland's VA hospital were accused in 2010 of telling workers to use unauthorized wait lists to hide scheduling problems.

The VA Inspector General's Office said it couldn't substantiate the claims, but Darin Selnick, a former VA official, says that investigation, and the VA as a whole, should not be trusted.

"You really have to kind of blow up the system in some ways and reinvent it," said Selnick, who served as special assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001 to 2009.

“There's a total lack of customer service,” the Air Force veteran said, speaking to KATU by Skype from his home in Southern California. He said the VA suffers to this day from a severe lack of accountability.

"It's so bad. I had an employee work for me that was bad and I couldn't fire 'em!” Selnick said. “They just move people."

Selnick says the process of firing workers is extremely long and cumbersome, especially when it comes to dismissing senior leaders.

“It takes a minimum of three years and two bad performance appraisals to start the process for that," he said.

Although he respects Shinseki, a retired general, Selnick feels his resignation is a step in the right direction.

“You can't run the VA like you run the military,” Selnick said. “It doesn't work that way. You need to have that outside, corporate experience, that outside-of-government experience to see how other things have been run."

Selnick says the VA is set up for a 1945 structure and a 1945 patient, and its system needs updating.

“Whether it's just calling to get an appointment, calling to get a referral, there's a whole bureaucracy that is in place that is structurally deficient," Selnick said.

Regarding the investigation that cleared Portland's VA hospital of wrongdoing in 2010, Selnick said, "Staff and others have told me that staff at hospitals are told to lie to the IG (Inspector General) and withhold information from the IG, so I would say the new investigative staff are gonna have to go back to Portland and all 150 facilities to find out the real truth."

A local VA spokesman told KATU the agency stands by the inspector general's findings.

President Obama, meanwhile, has named Sloan Gibson, the current deputy VA secretary, to run the department for now.

Selnick says Gibson, who once ran the USO and worked in banking, is a good choice, but insists a lot more needs to be done.