The Montana VA is among 14 federal veterans facilities named in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, claiming information requests were not fulfilled in a timely manner regarding questions over some new programs.
The AFP Foundation said the VA failed to provide records it requested within 20-30 business days, the allotted time frame, and they are suing to get the information.
They want the court to order the defendant to process the requests within 20 business days and keep the VA from putting the requests through a “centralized political review” process.
Montana VA, noting it does not usually discuss pending litigation, offered comment.
"Montana’s veterans deserve our best and the best requires accountability through transparency," it said in an email. "We fully support the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process, which ensures our veterans, the public, and all stakeholders that we are transparent and accountable to the quality of care we provide.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the Virginia-based AFP Foundation had asked in May how the agency is implementing the VA Mission Act of 2018 and the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP).
The VCCP requires timely scheduling of appointments and referral to private care whenever the VA cannot provide prompt service, Americans for Prosperity said. They added that wait times must be calculated from the “date of request” for an appointment.
“The requested records have significant value that serves the public interest,” Americans for Prosperity said, adding the VA has “faced repeated scandals in recent years over its mismanagement of patient scheduling and systems and wait-time data.”
The Montana VA - which was asked for information, as well as VA health care facilities in Arizona, Florida and West Virginia -- referred questions to the national office.
The AFP Foundation said it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on May 27, listing 10 questions, including records reflecting the total number of appointments scheduled, records reflecting the total number of appointments completed and records reflecting the total number of appointments canceled.
The lawsuit noted that on June 28, the VA Montana Health Care System provided AFPF with a notice of the agency’s extension of its response deadline and that it intended to have a response within 10 business days.
They said the Montana VA failed to produce “any responsive records.”
They said the VA has flagged the request for “Substantial Interest” sensitive review, which would likely lead to delayed processing.
Americans for Prosperity Foundation said this step can lead to unjustified delay, inadequate searches, politicized document review, improper redaction and incomplete disclosure.
Nate Anderson, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, a sister organization of Americans for Prosperity, said the information related to these “FOIA requests would be invaluable for veterans and their advocates by highlighting where shortfalls exist, what needs to be improved, and how the VA can better address individual health care needs.”
Story updated Thursday with comment from Montana VA.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.