The federal watchdog that probed complaints of delays and other issues with mental health care last year at the VA Maine Healthcare System said it expects to release a report on its findings next month.

That could be more than seven months after the Office of the Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ended its October visit to the system’s headquarters in Togus after a review was requested by former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District. So far, the impact on the nearly 10,000 Maine veterans who receive care statewide for issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression is unknown.

If proven, the allegations would link Togus to issues similar to those at other hospitals that caused a national scandal last year. A memo from the inspector general’s office to Togus employees obtained by the Kennebec Journal last year said it was alleged that employees took shortcuts and withheld information from patient files in order to meet national benchmarks for mental health services. Then, Togus Director Ryan Lilly said the allegations are serious and will be corrected if they exist, but he hadn’t seen evidence substantiating them.

The goal of the inspector general’s office is to finish reports within 120 days of inspections, but Catherine Gromek, an office spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, said employees are “working diligently” to finish the report and anticipate issuing it by mid-June.

The memo said that Togus employees may have left information about combat-related mental illnesses out of patient files to tamp down the number of veterans seeking care and used scheduling ploys that masked the true periods of time that patients were waiting for appointments, among other things. But Lilly said he never saw “an instruction to omit things” as a strategy at the Healthcare System.

The national scandal was sparked by allegations last April that at least 40 veterans died while awaiting care at VA facilities in Phoenix. Similar problems were disclosed at other hospitals, with a VA audit finding that 120,000 veterans were affected by long wait times. VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and Congress later passed a reform bill that was signed by President Barack Obama.

John Hargreaves, of East Boothbay, a member of the American Legion’s national executive committee from Maine, said the veterans service organization will take a close look at the report when it’s released, review it with Togus-based staff members and “may or may not make a public statement,” depending on the findings.

“I would expect that there’d be some reaction to it,” Hargreaves said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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