The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a memorandum saying that investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix. The investigation was ordered in response to an allegation that eventually helped uncover a troubled health care system, where Veterans waited months for appointments while employees falsified records to cover up the delays.
In February, every major news outlet in the country announced that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. The news sparked outrage from Veterans and the general public, alleging that the VA wasn’t fulfilling its duties. The scandal that ensued prompted the resignation of retired Army General Eric Shinseki, who was then-secretary of the VA. Three Phoenix VA Hospital executives were fired. The ordeal also prompted Congress to approve a bill that allotted $16.3 billion in additional spending to reform the department.
The allegations were put forward to Congress by Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for over 20 years before retiring in December, 2013. Dr. Foote accused VA leaders in Arizona of collecting bonuses for reducing patient wait times. But that bonus-worthy statistics only came about as a result of data manipulation, rather than improved service for Veterans. Dr. Foote believes that up to 40 patients died while awaiting care.
For months now, the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been investigating the delays. The inspector general runs an independent office within the VA. The final report of the investigation has not been issued. But the OIG recently shared a draft report of its findings with VA officials.
In a written memorandum about the report, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said, “It is important to note that while OIG””s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality-of-care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”
The VA is expected to continue to try to improve its track record for timeliness and quality of care. The $16.3 billion Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 is expected to help with those efforts by staffing more health care professionals, opening new facilities, and allowing Veterans facing long wait times to seek private care.
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Military Connection: Deaths Not Linked to VA Wait: By Debbie Gregory