TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The organization that filed a lawsuit against the VA for allegedly not complying with patient wait time data requests claims duplicate documents from the agency have slowed the legal process.
According to plaintiff Policy Counsel Ryan Mulvey, hundreds of duplicates were provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after the court ordered the agency to release a quota of 500 pages a month.
“We’re not getting what we asked for,” Mulvey said. “I don’t know if they’re [sending duplicates] on purpose.”
The VA has not yet provided answers to questions about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed July 20, 2021 by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group funded by Charles Koch.
The plaintiffs filed the complaint after the VA allegedly failed to produce records requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from 14 VA Medical Centers in Florida and three other states.
The Phoenix wait time scandal prompted the 2014 Choice Act that forced the VA to pay for Community Care with private physicians when wait times were longer than 30 days. The 2018 Mission Act reduced the window of time to 20 days for primary, mental and extended care, and 28 days for specialty care.
“There’s a likelihood [the VA] does not want the records released because the agency isn’t following the Mission Act,” Mulvey said.
Several Tampa Bay veterans have called 8 On Your Side with complaints about Community Care.
8 On Your Side helped St. Petersburg veteran Jackie Turner get back in Community Care after she was abruptly removed from the program even though she insisted civilian acupuncture was working.
“When I was with her, I wasn’t using the walker,” she said at the time.
Tampa Combat veteran Rafael Techera was in pain, and out of hope.
“I was considering killing myself every day that I was in pain,” Techera said.
He was eventually allowed to go outside the VA after he claimed back treatments at James Haley VA Medical Center did not help.
VA officials have said the agency is obeying the Mission Act.
The lawsuit alleges the VA has also caused delays by flagging and delaying records requests for wait time data, including one filed by 8 On Your Side.
“We know your request, our requests were flagged for sensitive treatment,” Mulvey said. “That could lead to weeks of delays.”
Mulvey said FOIA delays can be caused by a number of factors including concerns that information could embarrass the agency.
“Especially if you don’t want politically embarrassing records to go out the door,” Mulvey said. “FOIA decisions should be made independent of which records are going to be damaging to the agency.”