Veterans are waiting too long for mental health care and are unaware that hospitals sometimes manipulate records in an attempt to make it appear that standards are being met, a former Veterans Affairs hospital official told senators Wednesday.
Hospitals are "gaming the system," with administrators so focused on achieving performance targets, in part to get bonuses, that they don't always do what's best for the patient, said Nicholas Tolentino, former mental health administrative officer at the VA medical center in Manchester, N.H.
Tolentino told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that he knew the problems were not unique to Manchester because of the work he did with other hospital officials nationwide.
Department policy requires that veterans receive a mental health treatment appointment within 14 days of their desired date. Tolentino said his hospital met that target by simply eliminating the opportunity for patients to state a desired appointment date. Instead, the veteran was told when the next appointment was available. Then, that appointment, often weeks or months away, was entered into the VA's records as the desired date.
"If that's being done, it's totally unacceptable," William Schoenhard, a deputy undersecretary, told the committee.