From KARE11: MINNEAPOLIS – According to official medical records, a former Minnesota Marine apparently contacted the Minneapolis VA from his grave to cancel an existing appointment and reschedule it.

Jordan Buisman’s family believes his medical records were falsified to hide serious delays in patient care at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center.

“It really makes me angry,” says Lisa Riley, Jordan’s mother.

Buisman died on November 26, 2012, after being told he would have to wait almost 70 days to get an appointment for a serious seizure disorder at the neurology clinic at the Minneapolis VA.

VA medical records say that four days after his death, Buisman cancelled his scheduled December appointment and requested a later date.

Senator Franken is among those reacting after the KARE 11 Investigates report. Franken’s office released a statement on the matter Monday night. It reads:

“I’m extremely troubled to hear reports that Jordan Buisman passed away while waiting for care through the VA and that records may have been doctored. This is an unacceptable tragedy,” said Sen. Franken. “As I said months ago, I strongly believe that the problems identified at the VA facilities in Minnesota need to be investigated, and I plan to press both the VA Inspector General and the Department of Justice to include this terrible tragedy in their investigations. 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.”

Earlier this month KARE 11 News reported that two former employees had filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the Veterans Administration’s Office of Inspector General claiming they were instructed to falsify records to make it appear that veterans were cancelling or delaying appointments. They say the practice allowed VA managers to hide long appointment delays.

ordan Buisman died awaiting an appointment at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center (Photo: KARE)
ordan Buisman died awaiting an appointment at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center
(Photo: KARE)

“So it doesn’t look like we’re the ones causing the delay,” former scheduler Letty Alonso told KARE 11. “It looks like the patient wants that delay.”

Alonso and fellow whistleblower Heather Rossbach were not involved in Buisman’s case, but they say it’s an example of the type of appointment record falsification that prompted them to file their complaint.

Both women say they were fired after they objected to fraudulent practices. They are contesting their firings through the Office of Special Counsel.

Human Toll of Appointment Delays

Corporal Jordan Buisman, 24, was a Marine Corps videographer who occasionally stepped in front of the camera.

His story illustrates the human toll delayed medical appointments can take on veterans and their families.

“I really cherish this book,” his mother said as she looked at a family photo album. “Because all I have is pictures now.”

Buisman medically retired from the Corps after developing epilepsy and suffering a series of seizures.

He returned home to Minnesota where he saw a neurologist at the Minneapolis VA.

Records show his doctor recommended that if Jordan had any “breakthrough events” he may “consider an increase” in his medicine.

Jordan had a serious seizure that landed him the emergency room. His mother says it took him nearly two weeks to see his primary care doctor at the Veterans Administration facility in St Cloud, Minnesota.

“The general practitioner did see him then but didn’t feel he could deal with his epilepsy,” his mother remembers. “So he told him to schedule an appointment down at the VA in Minneapolis.”

The VA’s own policy says the goal for getting a patient into a specialty clinic like Neurology is 14 days.

Medical records obtained by his family indicate that Buisman called the Minneapolis VA Neurology clinic October 12 asking for an appointment.

His mother says he got a letter in the mail one week later. “It stated he had an appointment at the VA on December 20 which would have been approximately 70 days.”

“70 days is just too long,” she said.

The letter said it was confirming the appointment, making it seem like that’s the date Jordan requested.

Riley disputes that. “He did not get a say in it at all.”

That 70 day wait would be too long for Jordan Buisman. He died Nov. 26, 2012, 24 days before his appointment to see a neurologist.

Buisman’s death certificate lists “seizure disorder” as the cause.

Dr. Orrin Devinsky, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Epilepsy Center at New York University, wrote, “It is my medical opinion …that more rapid referral to a neurological would have prevented his death.” The doctor went on to say he believes that if Buisman had been seen “more expeditiously” there’s a “more than a 50% chance he would be alive now.”

“More than 50 percent!” says Buisman’s mother. “That’s pretty good odds that if he’d have seen a doctor he’d be here today.”

Were Records Falsified?

Not only was Jordan Buisman forced to wait too long to see a doctor, his medical records seem to be an example of how the VA manipulated scheduling data to hide the truth about long delays for veterans needing care.

Jordan Buisman died 24 days before his scheduled appointment at the Minneapolis VA (Photo: KARE)
Jordan Buisman died 24 days before his scheduled appointment at the Minneapolis VA
(Photo: KARE)

Remember, Buisman died on Monday, Nov. 26. The following Friday, Nov. 30, four days after his death, someone wrote in his official VA records that Buisman cancelled his neurology appointment scheduled in late December and requested another one.

The computer record reads, “Veteran cancelled MSP Neuro.” It adds, “pt req apt for fu.” The scheduler entered Jan. 17, 2013, as the tentative follow up date.

Since VA schedulers are supposed to enter changes immediately, Jordan’s mother questions how her son could have cancelled his appointment, and asked to reschedule it, from the grave.[pull_quote_left]”Heads need to roll and butts need to be fired!” she said.[/pull_quote_left]

When KARE 11 News asked officials at the Minneapolis VA about Buisman’s case, a spokesman said they had not investigated it.

Why would the VA cancel and reschedule Jordan’s appointment and claim it was at his request?

While they would not comment specifically on this case, they sent KARE 11 News what they called “plausible reasons” for Buisman’s appointment being cancelled after he was already dead. One had to do with an automated phone call system, but when reporter A.J. Lagoe pushed on that, they admitted that’s only done within 72 hours of a scheduled appointment, not 20 days prior like in this case.

VA sources have another theory. They tell KARE 11 News it was common practice to manipulate data to help meet performance goals.

A 2010 memo shows that this type of falsification has been going on for years. In it, VA headquarters warned about “inappropriate scheduling practices” it had found that “will not be tolerated.” Among them, visits being “cancelled by clinic” but put in the computer as “cancelled by patient.”

Whistleblower Letty Alonso told KARE 11 News that she was instructed to falsify records by cancelling appointments in the VA’s computer system without telling veterans the appointments even existed.

“Let’s say right now you had a positive polyp, I would turn around and sometimes instructed by manager say, ‘Notified patient, patient didn’t want further treatment,'” Alonso explained.

She says entries like that were false. “The reality was the patient has not even been notified of the appointment.”

In the wake of the KARE 11 original report, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) has called for a full investigation of the whistleblowers’ allegations. Walz is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In a statement, Walz called the allegations “extremely troubling” and said they run counter to what local leadership at the VA told him.

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) is also calling for an investigation. When asked if a 70 day appointment delay is acceptable, Paulsen replied, “No, not acceptable.” He added, “Action needs to be taken. There needs to be consequences.”

For Lisa Riley, the mom left holding just a book of pictures, this is not a story about manipulated data. It’s a story about a son, a brother, a friend, and a Marine who lost his life, when there’s a good chance he could have been saved

Entry in VA medical records on November 30, 2012, four days after Buisman’s death. (Photo: KARE)
Entry in VA medical records on November 30, 2012, four days after Buisman’s death.
(Photo: KARE)

“I don’t know if you have kids, but would you take that chance? Would you take 50 percent?” she asked. “I would.”

Jordan’s family has filed a wrongful death claim against the VA.

Since our initial report, the VA’s Office of Inspector General has flown investigators into town to determine the truth about what’s been going on at the Minneapolis VA.

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