57,000 still awaiting initial VA hospital visits, audit shows

Daily News Article   —   Posted on June 12, 2014

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. It is the U.S. government’s fourth largest department, after the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education.
  • The VA employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices and is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.
  • In 2009 the VA budget was $87.6 billion; in 2012, the proposed budget was $132 billion. The VA 2014 budget request for 2014 was $152.7 billion. This included $66.5 billion in discretionary resources and $86.1 billion in mandatory funding.
  • The discretionary budget request represented an increase of $2.7 billion, or 4.3 percent, over the 2013 enacted level. (from wikipedia)

(from the VA website) Mission Statement of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.


VA health care scandal

(from CBS News) WASHINGTON — More than 57,000 veterans have been waiting for up to three months for medical appointments, the Veterans Affairs Department said in a wide-ranging audit released Monday. An additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor, according to the audit.

The audit is the first nationwide look at the federal government-run VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. Examining 731 VA hospitals and large VA outpatient clinics, the audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking their first appointments with both primary care doctors and specialists.

The audit said a 14-day target for waiting times was “not attainable,” given growing demand for VA services and poor planning. It called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials setting [the policy], and then basing bonuses on meeting the target “an organizational leadership failure.”

The audit is the third in a series of reports in the past month into long wait times and falsified records at VA healthcare facilities nationwide. The controversy forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. Shinseki took the blame for what he decried as a “lack of integrity” in the sprawling system providing health care to the nation’s military veterans.

“This report makes it clear that the only people benefiting from our current [government-run] VA health care system are the bureaucrats who put their own bonuses over veterans’ care,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., in a statement. “Now that we have further confirmation of the systemic nature of these problems, President Obama must direct the FBI to investigate the allegations of criminal misconduct.”

The audit released Monday said 13 percent of VA schedulers reported getting instructions from supervisors or others to falsify appointment dates in order to meet on-time performance goals. About 8 percent of schedulers said they used alternatives to an official electronic waiting list, often under pressure to make waiting times appear more favorable.

VA wait listActing VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the audit showed “systemic problems” that demand immediate action. VA officials have contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off waiting lists and into clinics, Gibson said, and are in the process of contacting an additional 40,000 veterans.

On Saturday, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., pitched several ideas to reform the troubled VA health care system, urging President Obama to do “whatever it takes” to address the systemic misconduct and treatment delays

Miller’s comments, delivered in the weekly GOP address, came just two days after a key bipartisan pair of senators announced a deal to reform the VA’s health care system.

Gibson visited several VA facilities last week to detail the department’s response to the immediate problem with treatment delays. He said the department is committed to re-earning the trust of America’s veterans “one at a time.”

Ismael Bruno, a 41-year-old New York City firefighter who served in the Navy and the Marine Corps, told CBS News last month that he no longer goes to [the government-run] VA hospitals because he felt like the administrative staffs there showed such little respect for veterans. He says scheduling appointments sometimes took several months and office employees display nothing but apathy while veterans wait alone for hours.

“It’s always poor service,” Bruno said. “I think I’ve gotten better service at the DMV.”

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS News. Visit the website at cbsnews .com.

Questions

Watch the CBSNews report–NOTE: CBS broadcasts a 30 second commercial first: (from cbsnews.com/news/57000-still-awaiting-initial-va-hospital-visits-audit-shows).

NOTE: “Answers” emails have ended for the school year and will resume September 2nd.
Daily posting will end for the summer on June 13th and will resume August 25th.

1.  Define audit.

2.  a) How many veterans have been waiting up to 3 months for medical appointments, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs audit?
b) How many veterans who enrolled in the VA health care system in the past 10 years have never been seen by a doctor?
c)  What prompted the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct the audit of the VA healthcare facilities?

3. What other mistreatment of our veterans does the audit detail? (see para. 5-6, 8)

4.  What action does Republican Sen. John Cornyn call on President Obama to take?

5.  What steps has the acting VA Secretary taken to address the abuse?

6.  Read the “Background” below and watch the videos under “Resources.”  In the posted commentary, Betsy McCaughey asserts: “The practical answer is to provide vouchers or health plans for vets who need colonoscopies, heart care, diabetes management and other treatment for non-combat-related conditions so they can escape the wait lists and use civilian doctors and hospitals.”  What do you think of Ms. McCaughey’s recommendation?

7.  a) What immediate action do you think President Obama needs to take to address this enormous misconduct and delay/complete lack of treatment for our veterans?
b)  Ask a parent the same question.


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.

Background

From a May 5 commentary by Betsy McCaughey at NYPost:

At the end of May, the nation was shocked by charges that more than 1,400 vets lingered and 40 died on a secret waiting list at the Phoenix, Ariz., Veterans Administration medical center. The list was concocted to conceal long waits for care. But what you haven’t heard is even worse: VA hospitals across America are manipulating the official electronic waiting list, and the deadly coverups have been going on for years.

The dirty tricks at the Phoenix VA came to light on April 24 when retired VA physician Sam Foote exposed how the hospital evaded legal requirements that patients be seen promptly. But Congress has known since the 1990s about vets at many VA facilities waiting hundreds of days for care and sometimes dying in line.

In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring that any vet needing care be seen within 30 days. The General Accountability Office reported in 2000, and again in 2001, that excessive waiting was still a problem. In 2007, and again in 2012, the VA’s own inspector general reported that VA schedulers routinely cheated to hide long waits.

The abuse was vividly documented in a March 2013 hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, more than a year before the Phoenix scandal broke.Debra Draper, the GAO’s director of health care, told Congress that the GAO visited four VA medical sites and found that more than half the schedulers were manipulating the system to conceal how long vets wait to see a doctor. Roscoe Butler, an American Legion investigator, described seeing similar tricks. Asked if the VA could correct the problem, Draper was skeptical.

Veterans’ demand for medical care exceeds the VA’s capacity. Again and again, VA bureaucrats have responded to that problem by lying, gaming the electronic-monitoring system and making false promises to the public.

All the while, vets suffer needlessly. On Jan. 30, it was disclosed that at least 19 veterans at VA facilities in Columbia South Carolina and Augusta Georgia died in 2010 and 2011 because they had to wait too long for colonoscopies and endoscopies that could’ve diagnosed their cancers while still treatable.

The practical answer is to provide vouchers or health plans for vets who need colonoscopies, heart care, diabetes management and other treatment for non-combat-related conditions so they can escape the wait lists and use civilian doctors and hospitals.

A bipartisan proposal offered by Reps. Peter King (R-LI) and Steve Israel (D-LI) urges that vets needing mental-health care be referred to civilian caregivers. (from a May 5 commentary by Betsy McCaughey at NYPost “The Lying and the Dying”)

and from a May 16 commentary by Michael Tanner at NYPost “How VA hospitals are a government-run disaster”:

The problems first surfaced in Phoenix, where the wait to receive care at VA facilities had grown so long that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. As many as 40 veterans reportedly died because they couldn’t get the care they needed. VA administrators tried to cover up the problems by establishing secret waiting lists and falsifying reports.

The scandal has now spread to other veteran facilities. VA employees at an outpatient clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., falsified appointment records to hide the fact that as many as 6,300 veterans treated at the outpatient clinic waited months to be seen for treatment. In Wyoming, whistleblowers have accused officials of manipulating records to hide wait times.

VA officers in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, have been accused of similar efforts to hide long waits. And in Pittsburgh, VA officials are accused of covering up the death of several patients after the water in a VA hospital became infected with bacteria. The officials reportedly tried to hide the information not only from patients and superiors, but even from hospital staff.

Resources

Read Dr. Sam Foote’s op-ed “Why I Blew the Whistle on the V.A.” at: nytimes.com

Watch a news report: