A manager at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Georgia is on leave with pay following his indictment on 50 counts of ordering his staff to falsify medical records of veterans waiting for outside medical care.
The case against Cathedral Henderson appears to be the first round of criminal charges stemming from a wait-times scandal that came to light last year and led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Henderson, 50, was in charge of revenue and billing and chief of “purchase care” in Augusta, coordinating medical care for veterans that VA could not offer. He was responsible for ensuring that more than 2,700 veterans awaiting approval for care outside the system were properly referred to for doctor’s appointments.
But under pressure from VA headquarters in 2014 to close out all requests for outside care, Cathedral simply ordered his staff to falsify the waiting patients’ medical records to show that the veterans had either completed or refused services, prosecutors allege.
Each of the charges against Henderson refers to a veteran with a pending need for medical care: Two patients were waiting for imaging, one for an ultrasound, one for neurology, another for surgery and 45 more for mammograms, according to prosecutors.
Henderson appeared in U.S. District Court on Friday and was released on bond. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His attorney,Keith B. Johnson of Augusta, told The Augusta Chronicle that his client “was following the directive of his supervisors, and that will come out in court documents.”
He’s one of 130 employees across the VA system who have faced disciplinary action in the year since reports of extreme wait times and falsified data exploded into the biggest scandal in VA history. After a whistleblower at a veterans hospital in Phoenix alleged that scheduling clerks were coached by VA administrators on how to cook the books and “zero out wait times” to hide long delays for patients, the practice turned out to be widespread at veterans hospitals, particularly in rural areas.
Spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement that the agency may take “additional administrative action” against Henderson, underscoring the pledge by VA’s new leadership to pursue discipline against poor performers. Under Secretary Robert McDonald, the agency has terminated more than 1,495 employees through firings and probationary terminations, Dillon said.
Henderson’s Linked In profile shows a lengthy resume with 20 years with the agency in financial, information technology, clinical and administrative positions. Since February 2014, he has served as technical implementation manager in VA’s chief business office in Atlanta, overseeing and directing “deployment of new products, services or projects.”
The resume says he also serves as a mentor to junior staffers.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement that while he regrets that the criminal actions alleged by prosecutors took place, “I am pleased that the investigation we called for in the wake of the Phoenix scandal is being done and people are being held accountable for manipulating medical appointment records when they should have been giving our veterans access to the care they need and deserve.”