A year ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs was in turmoil. A scandal had erupted that April with news reports that at least 40 patients died while waiting for care at VA health facilities in Phoenix.
Soon, similar problems with “secret waiting lists” and patients denied care were being uncovered at other VA hospitals nationwide. And at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, officials revealed that several dozen heart patients in need of care had been left waiting for appointments.
They blamed that lapse on a “serious clerical mistake.”
Behind the scenes, officials were blaming a single scheduling clerk, NaNette Chaney.
Several days after reports about the missing appointments surfaced in The Kansas City Star and other news media, Chaney was put on administrative leave. A month later, she was fired.
Now the Army veteran, who worked for the VA for eight years, is fighting to get her job back.
Experts say the problems Chaney says she faced were typical of the systemwide dysfunction exposed at the VA last year — inadequate staffing, unattainable goals and a bureaucracy that heaped demands on workers at the lowest levels while keeping those in the highest echelons in the dark.
“The problems don’t necessarily reside at the top or at the bottom,” said David Gai of Amvets, a national veterans service organization. “It’s usually at a leadership management level and trickles up and down from there.”
Chaney says she was given an impossible job. She was assigned to schedule patients attending two clinics, told to ignore VA rules and doctors’ orders, and given ever-changing rosters of physicians available to see patients, as well as conflicting orders left on sticky notes, emails and voice messages.