Government & Politics

VA Scandal Cover-Up

While the probe into malfeasance at VA hospitals continues, evidence is reportedly being destroyed.

May 7, 2014

“Hey, Washington, you listening?” reads the headline on the Arizona Republic. On the heels of the revelations about VA hospital “waiting lists” for patients and the resulting deaths and illnesses, angry vets, their families and average citizens are getting tired of waiting for answers. But it’s more than likely that all the answers will never be known.

While the probe into malfeasance at two VA hospitals grinds on, investigators fear that essential records may be destroyed before they can be seized. A whistleblower in Phoenix has already reported the destruction of records that prove the existence of the “secret waiting list.”

VA physician Dr. Katherine Mitchell complained to superiors last year about long delays in caring for vets. Last week, she and a co-worker discovered a plan to destroy records that had falsified wait-times for vets. VA clerks allegedly falsified records to make the delays “go away,” while vets waited for months, even years, before seeing doctors. Some even died due to delays.

Last fall, Mitchell filed a confidential complaint with the Inspector General’s Office. Apparently, however, someone in Washington intercepted the complaint, and shortly thereafter, Mitchell was placed on administrative leave. But if Mitchell’s story is true, then this scandal could reach the top echelon of the VA.

Mitchell surreptitiously obtained hard copies of the records and turned them over to the Inspector General’s Office the next day. Within days Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki placed Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman and two top aides on administrative leave. Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, called for Shinseki’s resignation, along with two other top VA officials. He said, “It has been more than 30 years since The American Legion has called for the resignation of a public official. It’s not something we do lightly.” But, he said, the “pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership” needs to change, “and that change needs to occur at the top.”

In 2013 the VA redesigned some procedures for tracking patients to better determine wait-times for the nine million veterans served each year. They found that in 2012 only 41% of new VA patients had been seen in the required 14-day time period. They claim their new procedures greatly improve tracking and accurate measurement of wait-times.

Yet since the discovery of malfeasance in Fort Collins, Colorado, the VA has inspected four other facilities where they found “other instances of misunderstanding” wait-time tracking requirements. Investigators believe the entire system is full of delays and opportunities to cover-up.

VA officials complain they don’t have enough doctors or support staff, and that’s no doubt very true. The number of outpatient visits is rising rapidly, largely due to the aging veteran population and young combat survivors who suffer from multiple medical and psychological problems. And the current administration is hardly vet-friendly.

On a related note, because of her violating a VA gag order, Dr. Mitchell might lose her career. “As a VA employee I have seen what happens to employees who speak up for patient safety and welfare within the system. The devastation of professional careers is usually the end result… I spent my whole professional life wanting to be a VA nurse, and then a VA physician, but the insanity in the system right now needs to stop, and whatever I can do to accomplish that, I will.” Indeed, this disservice to our vets is a national disgrace. Our vets deserve the very best medical system we can give them, and they’re not getting it.

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