ST. LOUIS - Internal documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs obtained by our partners at USA TODAY show the depth of fraudulent scheduling, manipulation of data, and in some cases intimidation of staff, to hide delays in medical care to veterans in the six million patient system.
Federal auditors interviewed more than 3,200 employees at more than 700 clinics and hospitals to gather their findings.
In St. Louis, 18.8 percent of employees interviewed said they were told to falsify appointment data. That's more than the 12 percent of employees nationwide who said they were ordered to manipulate data.
NewsChannel 5 asked for a statement from the St. Louis VA but one never came.
Also Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 420-5 to approve a $16.3 billion compromise to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department and speed up veterans' access to healthcare. The reform measure still needs to be approved by the Senate before it can be sent to the president's desk. Lawmakers have been racing to agree on a package before their scheduled August break.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) was first in Congress to vote on the bill's passage.
"It won't solve all the problems, but it's a step in the right direction," she said.
The House-approved deal includes $10 billion in emergency funds to allow veterans to go to private doctors if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or are told they must wait more than 14 days for an appointment. An additional $5 billion is allotted to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff to address problems at overcrowded VA facilities.
Wagner said the bill also makes it easier to fire VA employees who are doing a poor job.
Under the proposal, senior executives could be fired at will by the VA secretary while having only seven days to appeal, and the VA would face a top-to-bottom independent assessment of its hospital and clinics, which comprise the largest integrated medical system in the U.S.
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt responded to both the compromise bill and the latest data showing the depth of the VA scandal:
"This kind of treatment of America's veterans is unacceptable and intolerable, and this report is further evidence that we must work quickly to fix the serious and systemic problems at the VA. I'm supporting the Senate VA bill because it takes an important step in giving veterans more choice in their care."
NewsChannel 5 also reached out to Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Lacy Clay but yet to hear from them. Clay spent the day with President Obama in Kansas City.