THE VA SCANDAL KEEPS GROWING
The Veterans Administration scandal has been pushed off the front page, but it’s getting worse.
More than 1,000 vets may have died over the last decade because of delayed or improper care, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, a physician, charged in a lengthy report Tuesday (6/24).
Drug dealing, theft and even murder are "pervasive" at VA facilities, he said.
Many VA nurses spend their days working on union activities, not caring for patients, Sen. Coburn said. Because it’s all but impossible to fire them, an increasing number of VA employees don’t bother to come to work at all.
A failure to process medical records at the VA Medical Center in Memphis has forced vets to wait three to five months for treatment, the Daily Caller reported Tuesday. A rule change implemented in 2010 made it easier to conceal long wait times, the Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday (6/22).
Officials in Washington ordered the director of the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh to lie to them about the lengthy waiting list there, charged area Reps. Tim Murphy, a Republican, and Mike Doyle, a Democrat.
The VA Medical Center in Phoenix has been covering up veterans’ deaths, Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk, told CNN. The Inspector General ignored her when she complained about it. Patient records were still being altered after the scandal broke.
The VA has dramatically under-reported the number of vets who commit suicide while waiting for mental health treatment, according to a CBS report in 2007, updated this month by National Review.
The VA has retaliated against whistleblowers for years, the New York Times reported June 16. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent office set up to protect whistleblowers, is investigating 37 cases of alleged retaliation against VA employees.
All 470 senior managers received high performance evaluations last year. Most (78 percent) qualified for bonuses.Terry Gerigk Wolf, director of the medical center in Pittsburgh received $63,000, despite an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease which led to six patient deaths. Sharon Helman, director of the medical center in Phoenix, got $8,500.
As wait times lengthened and deaths mounted among those waiting for treatment, the percentage of senior officials who qualified for bonuses increased. Only 3 of about 7,000 VA officials received "unsatisfactory" performance ratings.
The coverup of waiting lists "is just the tip of the iceberg, reflecting a perverse culture within the department where veterans are not always the priority and data and employees are manipulated to maintain an appearance that all is well," Sen. Coburn said.
"Bad employees are rewarded with bonuses and paid leave while whistleblowers, health care providers, and even veterans and their families are subjected to bullying, sexual harassment, abuse, and neglect," he said.
A former Special Forces medic, who said the poor treatment he received from the VA for an injury suffered in combat "nearly killed me," agreed.
The real problem, he told columnist Michelle Malkin, is "the utter fraudulent expenditure of enormous budgets, not on veterans, but on overpaid lazy, surly civilian employees that often make it clear that a) they do not like veterans and b) that the veteran is actually a nuisance."
"I don’t know how you fix this…other than I would throw out every senior manager in the VA," said CNN reporter Drew Griffin, who broke the story of the secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA.
The House passed separate bills to expand the authority of the VA secretary to fire or demote senior bureaucrats for poor performance, and to give vets who’ve had to wait more than 30 days for treatment, or who live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, a voucher to get the care they need elsewhere.
Public employee unions oppose making it easier to fire bureaucrats for any reason; oppose letting vets go elsewhere for treatment they’re supposed to provide, even when it’s clear they haven’t been providing it.
Democrats depend on them for votes and campaign contributions. So the bill the Senate passed watered down both provisions. A final version will be written by a House-Senate conference committee.
He’s "cautiously optimistic" the conference committee can avert "sabotage efforts by the VA’s apologist allies," said Iraq and Afghan war vet Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America.
Let’s hope so. Vets deserve real, not pretend reform.