Whistleblower claims secret list at Overton Brooks VA Medical Ce - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Whistleblower claims secret list at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport

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SHREVEPORT, La - Although problems with VA wait times and scheduling practices have been discussed by Government audits for over a decade, this issue really came to light after whistleblowers in Phoenix, Arizona, started talking to CNN about secret wait lists and veterans who died waiting for care. The whistleblowers in Arizona stayed anonymous, except for one physician, Dr. Foote, who waited until he had retired and secured his government benefits before being publicly identified. CNN continued its coverage with reports from six doctors in South Carolina and Georgia, none of whom would appear on camera. Since the Phoenix scandal broke, other news outlets have interviewed schedulers claiming to know how wait times were manipulated, but all of those that KTBS is aware of, have demanded that their identities be kept secret, their faces and voices obscured. The fear of reprisal by the VA has created this demand for anonymity.

But, Shea Wilkes has been willing to come forward and talk on camera, to KTBS. Wilkes had reported his concerns internally and to the V.A.’s Inspector General, who is aware of the alleged Overton Brooks secret wait list. But after the VA released numbers this past Monday, showing only 5 veterans waiting on an Electronic Wait List, and that established mental health patients only waited 2.07 days for appointments, he was ready to go outside the V.A. in hopes that the Inspector General will quickly come to Overton Brooks for their follow-up investigation.

When we mentioned his bravery in coming forward, Wilkes cited concerns for others at the V.A. who might face retaliation because of his actions. Wilkes tells KTBS that his goal is to put an end to manipulation of data, so that a real assessment of Veterans needs can be dealt with.

 “A lot of people are so scared to do that, they're scared outside the V.A., but in the V.A., you're gonna get hammered. I'll tell you right now, if you're not on the side that's going one direction, you're quite possibly going to know real quick to shut up, or you're going to get smoked, you're going to get hammered."

Wilkes, a licensed clinical social worker, has worked at Overton Brooks V.A. Medical Center since 2007, with a break for his deployment. A veteran of missions to Afghanistan and Bosnia, Wilkes worked in the mental health department, and now works with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in primary care.

“I think I'm more worried for others to face reprisal for what I've done, and I hope not."

Numbers released Monday from the V.A. audit show that established mental health patients wait about two days for an appointment at Overton Brooks. But Wilkes says that's far from the truth.

“I actually have a secret wait list, it's an excel sheet, with veterans, it was on the shared drive, it was secured with a password, it has over 2,700 veterans on it,” says Wilkes. “I'm thinking that it has a lot of veterans on it…that have fallen through the cracks. There were 2,700 veterans on there. From those 2,700, a couple of providers were asked to go through and review. They hadn't gone through all 2,700, but at the time, May 5th, over 500 that they had gone through needed appointments…Some of them they found in there had already passed away, so they were put on the tab of deceased. I've sat in meetings and heard individuals tells other people, 'no don't put them on the electronic wait list, you keep them on this list right here,'” says Wilkes. “Why? Because they want to meet that performance measure, and if they meet that performance measure, they get the bonus, they look good.”

Wilkes says some of the veterans on the list have not received care in two years.

Although he says he realizes the need for mental health services is greater than the V.A.’s current capacity, perpetual dishonest practices won't help.

“You know they can't see all of them individually...But we gotta do something, we're manipulating the system that's supposed to let them know,” says Wilkes. “We can't do this, we're putting a band aid on a gaping wound.”

KTBS reached out to Overton Brooks to respond to the allegations, and they have not yet responded. An earlier request for a sit-down interview with the VA was denied. At that time they did tell us that they did not know when Overton Brooks would receive its follow up investigation and they were not told why Overton Brooks was flagged for further follow up or investigation. We will continue our coverage with more of our interview with Shea Wilkes; Sunday night, 6/22, at 10 pm, he will give you information about how wait times are manipulated. And Monday night, 6/23, he’ll discuss the culture within the V.A. that has allowed this to go on for so long.
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