Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation are calling for an investigation of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, after a report by KARE 11 alleged clinic staff falsified the appointment records of patients to meet performance goals, and the practice may have led to the death of a Minnesota Marine.
Family members of Minnesota Marine Cpl. Jordan Buisman told KARE they have records from the VA showing Buisman asked to have an appointment postponed - four days after he died.
Buisman, 24, medically retired from the Corps after developing epilepsy and having seizures. In October 2012 he called to make an appointment at the Minneapolis VA's neurology clinic, but couldn't get in until late December – nearly 70 days later. He died on November 26, 2012, and the cause of death was listed as "seizure disorder."
Four days after he died, someone wrote in Buisman's VA records that he had cancelled his neurology appointment and requested a later date. The VA scheduler entered Jan. 17, 2013, as the tentative follow-up date, KARE reports.
His mother, Lisa Riley, said she believes the record was falsified to hide the delay.
"Heads need to roll and butts need to be fired," Riley told KARE. The family has filed a wrongful death claim against the VA.
Minnesota's two U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, as well as U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tim Walz, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, say they're troubled by the reports and have called on the Inspector General of the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate the case.
"This is an unacceptable tragedy," Franken said in a statement sent to KARE. "The men and women who join the military risk their lives to serve our country; they shouldn't have to risk their lives waiting for an appointment at the VA."
VA inspectors are already investigating the claims of two former Minneapolis VA employees who say they were ordered to falsify records to make it look like the veterans themselves were canceling or delaying appointments, a practice they claim allowed VA managers to hide long appointment delays, according to the Star Tribune. The women were fired after they raised objections.
"This case appears to be an egregious example of manipulating scheduling practices to conceal excessive wait times that put veterans’ lives at risk," Klobuchar said in a letter to the Inspector General.
Buisman's family asked a New York University physician who specializes in epilepsy to review the soldier's medical records, and he concluded that Buisman had a greater than 50 percent chance of survival if he had been seen "more expeditiously."
A spokesman for the Minneapolis VA told the Associated Press he couldn't comment on the family's allegations because of the pending legal case.
Similar charges have been leveled at VA hospitals and clinics in other cities around the country, and investigations of those claims are already underway.