A Veterans Health Administration (VA) audit report found that Veterans Affairs officials employed more than 6,000 workers, several with access to veteran patients and sensitive personal information, without performing proper background checks, Military Times reported on Wednesday.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted the audit to evaluate controls over the adjudication of background investigations at VA medical facilities for the five-year period ending September 30, 2016.
The news comes just months after the watchdog found that department leaders consistently failed to report potentially dangerous medical providers to outside health systems, a problem which raised patient safety issues not just for veterans but for the public as a whole.
The new report from the inspector general found that mandatory background checks, mandated under federal rules within 14 days of employment, were not handled properly in about 6 percent of new VA hires over a five-year period.
In one case, a registered nurse at a Dayton, Ohio VA facility worked for 1,452 days before a proper background investigation was begun.
Investigators blamed the problem on a lack of oversight and mismanagement at the department’s Operations, Security, and Preparedness office, noting that “the absence of adequate oversight controls by OSP and VHA permitted these delinquencies to remain undetected for many years.”
VA medical facilities are required to initiate the background investigation process within 14 calendar days of an employee’s appointment. The appointee completes an electronic questionnaire and the facility submits it to OPM, who conducts the investigation. However, the OIG projected that about 6,200 VHA employees (6 percent) did not have background investigations initiated. The example below identify instances where employees, who were working at the facility, did not have background investigations initiated by facility staff.
At the Charlie Norwood VAMC in Augusta, GA, a registered nurse had been working for 774 days before a background investigation was initiated. The facility became aware of the delinquency and took corrective action as a result of the OIG’s site visit and case review.
The OIG identified instances at 5 of 18 medical facilities reviewed where some investigations had not yet been adjudicated. For example, at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, workload management practices resulted in four Tier 1 investigations not being adjudicated. As of September 2016, these employees had worked for a range of 138 to 600 days—an average of 390 days—with a completed background investigation that was not adjudicated by VA. According to the facility adjudicator, as of June 2017, these investigations remained unadjudicated.
In addition, the OIG determined that suitability staff had not been consistently adjudicating background investigations within the 90-day requirement. Overall, the OIG projected that about 10,400 cases (13 percent) were not adjudicated in a timely manner. Specific examples include:
At the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, the OIG identified 47 cases that exceeded the 90-day timeliness requirement. Processing times ranged from 124 to 2,312 days to complete and averaged 1,153 days.
At the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, eight of the cases reviewed exceeded the 90-day timeliness requirement ranging from 97 to 870 days to adjudicate and averaged 477 days to complete.
At the VA North Texas Health Care System, three of the cases reviewed exceeded the 90-day timeliness requirement ranging from 113 to 490 days to adjudicate and averaged 255 days.
The full 41-page report can be found here.
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