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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it will investigate allegations that the appointment records of a retired Marine who died after having seizures were falsified to cover up delays in patient care at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.
Cathy Gromek, spokeswoman for the VA's inspector general's office in Washington, told The Associated Press she wasn't sure when the investigation would be finished.
"We're working it and when we can report out, we'll report out," Gromek said.
The announcement followed calls from Minnesota's congressional delegation for an investigation, one day after KARE-TV reported that VA records showed that a neurology exam for Jordan Buisman was rescheduled four days after his death. His family believes the record was falsified and has filed a wrongful death claim against the VA.
Buisman had been told he'd have to wait almost 70 days to see a specialist at the Minneapolis VA neurology clinic for his epilepsy, which had forced him to leave the Marines. The 24-year-old former corporal died Nov. 26, 2012 — 24 days before his appointment. His death certificate listed "seizure disorder" as the cause.
Four days after his death, someone wrote in his VA records that Buisman had canceled his neurology appointment and requested a later date, KARE reported. The VA scheduler entered Jan. 17, 2013, as the tentative follow-up date.
His mother, Lisa Riley, said she believes the record was falsified to hide the delay and that her son probably would have survived if he had received care in time.
"Heads need to roll and butts need to be fired," Riley said.
Minneapolis VA spokesman Ralph Heussner told the AP that he couldn't comment on the family's allegations because of the pending litigation.
The VA's inspector general was already investigating whistleblower claims by two former Minneapolis VA employees who say they were instructed to falsify records to make it look like veterans were canceling or delaying appointments, a practice they allege allowed VA managers to hide long appointment delays.
U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said in letters Tuesday to Richard Griffin, the VA's acting inspector general, that his office needed to investigate the new allegations as well.
"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 her letter.
The VA's goal for getting a patient into a specialty clinic is 14 days. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University, reviewed Buisman's medical records for the family. He concluded there was more than a 50 percent chance that Buisman would have lived if he had been seen in time.
The VA has come under scrutiny following reports of widespread delays that forced veterans to wait months for medical appointments. Investigators have said efforts to cover up or hide delays were systemic throughout the agency's network of nearly 1,000 hospitals and clinics.
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