As a preliminary independent review by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general confirmed Wednesday that veterans seeking care at the VA facility in Phoenix faced delays averaging 115 days, veterans’ care facilities all over the Nation are becoming the subject of damning scrutiny. The spotlight is revealing increasingly disturbing abuses.
Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin said that the VA report confirms not only that there was a problem at the Phoenix facility, but that inappropriate scheduling practices are indeed “systemic throughout VHA [Veterans Health Administration].”
In Phoenix, VA officials had claimed that official data showed veterans waited an average of only 24 days for care. But the IG report discovered that left out of the official data were at least 1,700 veterans who had been placed on wait lists not included in the VA’s official reporting.
“Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process,” the report said. “As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment.
“A direct consequence of not appropriately placing veterans on EWLs [Electronic Wait Lists] is that the Phoenix HCS leadership significantly understated the time new patients waited for their primary care appointment in their FY 2013 performance appraisal accomplishments, which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases,” the report continued.
The initial report stopped short of confirming whether veterans died as a result of being placed on the wait list, noting that the investigation is ongoing.
The inspector general report also said that further review was needed to get to the bottom of a recent flood of complaints about mismanagement, corruption and outright incompetence throughout the Veterans Health system.
“Lastly, while conducting our work at the Phoenix HCS our on-site OIG staff and OIG Hotline received numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility,” the report said. “We are assessing the validity of these complaints and if true, the impact to the facility’s senior leadership’s ability to make effective improvements to patients’ access to care.”
A report published by The Daily Beast this week underscores the possibility of widespread wrongdoing by Veterans Affairs employees throughout the Nation. Internal memos and emails from the Texas VA obtained by the outlet, along with firsthand information from an unnamed whistleblower, illustrate how the VA has devolved into a “crime syndicate.”
“For lack of a better term, you’ve got an organized crime syndicate,” the whistleblower, aTexas VA employee, told The Daily Beast. “People up on top are suddenly afraid they may actually be prosecuted and they’re pressuring the little guys down below to cover it all up.”
“I see it in the executives’ eyes,” the whistleblower continued. “They are worried.”
The Daily Beast report reveals rampant scheduling fraud, incentives for VA doctors to cut patient care and a cover-up similar to what happened in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, a California widow named Norma Montano filed a Federal lawsuit on Friday alleging that the Loma Linda VA Police Department killed her husband when he grew tired of waiting for treatment on May 25, 2011.
According to the lawsuit, Jonathan Montano became irritated after waiting more than four hours for a dialysis appointment and decided to leave the Loma Linda VA facility and seek treatment at a facility in Long Beach. Montano’s family said that he did not want to allow the hospital to remove a shunt placed in his arm for the treatment; but VA officials insisted that it be done because, they said, it would be too dangerous to travel with it in place.
The hospital called in VA Police to deal with Montano, claiming that he had become belligerent as he insisted that he be allowed to leave the facility with the shunt in place. The veteran’s widow alleges that the officers subsequently threw Montano to the floor, beating him and damaging his carotid artery, causing a stroke. Two and a half weeks after the incident, Montano was dead.
The hospital initially told Mrs. Montano, who was not present when the incident occurred, that her husband suffered the stroke in a fall.
“Later on, one of the nurses at the VA Hospital in Loma Linda took Norma Montano aside, and told her that her husband didn’t fall, but was slammed to the ground by the VA Police, that Norma Montano was being lied to, and that it wasn’t right what the VA Police did to Jonathan Montano,” the suit alleges.
In December 2013, the VA reviewed the incident and declared that there was “no evidence of negligence or wrongful act or omission by VA employees that resulted in injury to, or the death of, the veteran patient in June 2011. Although a terrible and unfortunate incident occurred, VA personnel acted and responded appropriately.”