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Latest Insult: American Vets Died Waiting for Appointments

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THE RUSS REPORT-On May 8, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to subpoena General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, because of allegations that his department is responsible for delays that caused needless deaths at some of its hospitals. 

Shinseki is expected to provide testimony before the Committee on Thursday. 

National media coverage surrounding the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system seems to be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” At least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments to see doctors. Nearly all were placed on a “secret list” in a scheme to hide 1400- 1600 sick veterans who have waited months to see a doctor. 

Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, said of the subpoena issued to Shinseki, “This is a drastic measure that the House Committee on Veterans Affairs was forced to take because the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) refuses to answer questions and be transparent. We fully support Chairman Miller’s committee in doing whatever they need to do to get the bottom of what happened at the Phoenix VA hospital and everywhere else.” 

Concerned Veterans for America along with The American Legion, the largest Veteran Service Organization (VSO) have called for Shinseki’s resignation, citing among many other issues, the needless deaths of veterans across the nation who died while waiting for care. A growing number of members in Congress have joined the VSO’s in asking Shinseki to step down. 

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger remarked,  “On May 5 during Spring Meetings in Indianapolis, I did one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do as national commander – I called for the resignations of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey. The American Legion hasn’t called for the resignation of a public official in 30 years. The call for their resignation comes from poor oversight and failed leadership. The American Legion wants answers and solutions to the pattern of scandals that has infected the entire VA system.” 

Concerned Veterans For America has voiced its concerns on its website as well. “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is failing America’s veterans. For too long, veterans of all generations— and their families— have been underserved, overburdened, and flat-out ignored by an unaccountable bureaucracy. 

Veterans submit claims for battlefield injuries…and then wait for years.  Veterans seek basic medical diagnosis and then wait for weeks.  And in the most tragic cases, veterans are given sub-standard care and lose their lives in VA facilities.  Families, along with their veterans, share the burden of these bureaucratic failures. The executives and managers responsible for these delays and deaths have not been fired; instead — outrageously — they’ve been given performance bonuses.” 

On May 6, Texas Sen. John Cornyn echoed Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Veteran’s affairs committee, in calling for Shinseki’s resignation from the VA. 

“He needs to step down,” Cornyn told reporters. “The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve.”

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller, launched an investigation and found dozens of recent preventable deaths of veterans across the nation.  

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) reports that in the last decade, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) has paid out more than $200 Million in wrongful death actions to families of veterans. Eight million of that money went to veterans in California. There were over 1000 preventable deaths of veterans, some of which did not happen directly under Shinseki’s watch.

In Manhattan, New York and St. Louis, Missouri, nearly 3000 veterans were exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) because of needles that were reused or not sterilized. 

The Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh had an outbreak of Legionnaires disease and failed to warn patients. Administrators knew of the outbreak for more than a year. Six veterans died and 20 were sickened.

At the Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, a veteran died when all the blood was drained from his body due to an improperly monitored medical procedure. 

Because they could not get mental health care in a timely manner at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, two veterans died of an overdose and one committed suicide. 

The average time for a veteran to get an appointment to see a doctor hovers around 3 months. In some cities, veterans have waited as long as 10 months to see a doctor. 

A Washington Times (WT) review of eight recent VA inspector general reports showed civilians waited for far less time than veterans to see an emergency room doctor. WT documented “that average waits at VA emergency rooms can be as long as 10 hours. There are excessive ER wait times at VA hospitals in Las Vegas; Memphis; Denver; Chicago; Baltimore; Columbia, South Carolina; Northport, New York; and Dallas.” (May 7, 2014). And, this is only the tip of the iceberg!

In Fort Collins, Colorado, clerks were instructed on how to falsify appointment records so it looked like doctors were meeting agency goals of seeing a patient within 14 days. 

This is not an isolated incident and is rapidly becoming the norm at VA facilities. Nationwide, over 1.5 Million records have been deleted for veteran appointments. 

Estimates point to 1.2 million soldiers expected to be returning to civilian life in the next four years. 

The cost for medical treatment will soar along with the potential for more serious abuses. 

Add to these maladies, the plight of veterans who are arbitrarily being declared incompetent the VA. Doctors and VA staff are asking such invasive questions that have nothing to do with care sought by veterans and unconstitutionally reporting them to NICS, The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, leaving veterans with little to no recourse to defend themselves. 

Shinseki, himself, told CBS News Wednesday he has no plans to leave his position at the VA, and that he will get to the bottom of the scandal. 

"I take every one of these incidents and allegations seriously, and we're going to go and investigate," Shinseki said. "All of this makes me angry. Whenever we have allegations like this, even until they are founded - I didn't come here to watch things happen this way. I came here to make things better."because “things” are not better, such a feckless response doesn’t “hold water” with veterans seeking medical help or just trying to get the benefits Shinseki says they deserve. 

In Feb 2014, both the US House of Representatives and the Senate introduced Bills that would give the Secretary of the DVA authority to remove employees of the Senior Executive Service whose performance merits termination. 

H.R. 4031, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014” and S.B. 2013, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.” How come such measures were not introduced years ago? 

Throughout the past 5 years of Shinseki’s reign at the helm of the VA, there has been no accountability for these deplorable incidents and the numbers have increased- not decreased. It is time for him to go.

 

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch. Katharine Russ can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 39

Pub: May 13, 2014

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