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WASHINGTON — The just-released numbers from the preliminary report by the inspector general are a damning indictment of the Phoenix VA facility.
An average wait time for care of 115 days.
1,700 veterans waiting for a primary-care appointment who are not even on the official waiting list.
“Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix [healthcare system’s] convoluted scheduling process. As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment,” the report said.
The VA problems became a national sensation on April 14 when CNN reported that at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list, to cover up the actual wait times.
The Phoenix VA had claimed the average wait time was 24 days, not the 115 days the IG discovered.
The number of VA facilities under investigation has now exploded. At last count, it was 26.
The report said the IG is now investigating, or will investigate, 42 VA facilities around the country.
The IG’s interim report does not address whether the long wait times caused the deaths at the Phoenix VA, but that is what whistleblowers have claimed. Staff members at other facilities have since made similar claims, leading many to suspect the problems run throughout the whole system.
Three top VA officials have been called to testify before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs tonight. They did not show up last week. The committee will subpoena them to testify on Friday if they do not make an appearance this time.
Following the release of the report, committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“Shinseki is a good man who has served his country honorably, but he has failed to get VA’s health care system in order despite repeated and frequent warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the IG,” said Miller in a statement. “What’s worse, to this day, Shinseki — in both word and deed — appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department.”
Miller also called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to begin a criminal investigation into the VA scandal.
“Today the inspector general confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what was becoming more obvious by the day: Wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country,” said Miller.
The scandal is a growing crisis for the Obama administration, particularly because the president has vowed so often in the past to reform the VA.
In fact, WND discovered that during his transition into the White House in 2008-09, President Obama proposed in his “Obama-Biden” plan to “make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible.”
However, instead of fixing the VA, the administration has had to defend its role in the death of veterans by neglect.
In vowing to make the Veterans Administration the model of national health-care reform back in 2008, the administration has made the outlook for scandal-plagued Obamacare seem even worse.
WND has also discovered that eight years earlier, in a failed run for Congress, Obama unveiled a sweeping health-care plan that modeled aspects of the Veterans Administration’s medical system.
The discovery of the Obama-Biden VA plan fits a pattern that has come to light last week in which Obama repeatedly warned, or was warned, of serious problems at the VA but apparently did little in response.
In the document labeled the Obama-Biden Plan from the Office of the President Elect, Obama makes a series of promises to veterans, including:
- Fix the Benefits Bureaucracy: Hire additional claims workers, and improve training and accountability so that VA benefit decisions are rated fairly and consistently. Transform the paper benefit claims process to an electronic one to reduce errors and improve timeliness.
- Strengthen VA Care: Make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. Improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women’s health.
- Fully Fund VA Medical Care: Fully fund the VA so it has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it, when they need it. Establish a world-class VA Planning Division to avoid future budget shortfalls.
The Obama-Biden plan seems to have fallen so far short of its promise to “Fix the Benefits Bureaucracy” that the VA itself has admitted 23 vets have died waiting for care, and investigations of possible death-by-neglect have spread to 26 VA facilities around the country.
As WND has reported, Obama was warned about severe problems at the VA repeatedly over the years, even before he became president.
- WND discovered that Obama was briefed on problems at the VA as far back as 2005, when he was a senator and a member of the Veterans Affairs committee.
- In a 2007 speech, Sen. Obama said, “Keeping faith with those who serve must always be a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism. Because America’s commitment to its servicemen and women begins at enlistment, and it must never end.”
- The Washington Times reported Monday that the Obama administration received notice more than five years ago that VA medical facilities were reporting inaccurate waiting times and experiencing scheduling failures that threatened to deny veterans timely health care.
- VA officials reportedly warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the wait times the facilities were reporting were not trustworthy.
- More recently, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., wrote a letter to Obama on May 21, 2013, that warned: “an alarming pattern of serious and significant patient care issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) across the country … (including) failures, deceptions, and lack of accountability permeating VA’s healthcare system … I believe your direct involvement and leadership is required.”
- And, WND reported last week that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., reminded VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that Congress had been informed two years ago that gaming the system at the VA was so widespread, employees would look to get around regulations as soon as the rules were implemented.
Democrats have been quick to say the problems were caused by an increase in veterans in the system due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the solution is to increase spending on the VA, but the numbers tell a different story.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blamed the VA scandal on former President George W. Bush and an increase in veterans.
“[W]e go in a war in Afghanistan, leave Afghanistan for Iraq with unfinished business in Afghanistan. Ten years later, we have all of these additional veterans. In the past five years, two million more veterans needing benefits from the VA. That’s a huge, huge increase.”
Actually, according to government statistics, there are far fewer veterans in the VA.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said, “If the VA does not have enough doctors to see these patients, then these problems are a result of a lack of funding.”
On “Meet the Press” last week, NBC News chief Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski claimed, “You have a VA that is overwhelmed and under-resourced,” adding, “There’s just not enough money right now in the federal government to fix it.”
However, John Merline at Investor’s Business Daily crunched the numbers and found that just wasn’t true.
On the contrary, he found the VA’s budget has been exploding, even as the number of veterans steadily declines.
VA spending nearly tripled from 2000 to 2013, while the population of veterans declined by 4.3 million.
Even more telling, wounded warriors coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are not increasing treatment costs.
Those vets are actually far cheaper to treat than aging vets.
It also found, while these Iraq and Afghan vets account for 7 percent of those treated, they were responsible for only 4 percent of its health costs.
Iraq and Afghan vets, the report found, “are typically younger and healthier than the average VHA patient and as a result are less expensive to treat.”
Still, the VA scandal keeps exploding, with no signs of slowing down. VA Secretary Shinseki had testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee two weeks ago that he was not aware of problems similar to those in Phoenix at other VA facilities, except in isolated cases. But emboldened whistleblowers have now identified 26 VA facilities around the country experiencing similar problems.
Just last Thursday, an attorney claimed her client died of neglect by the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital.
The attorney said Donald Douglass had a small spot on his forehead confirmed as cancerous when he went to the Seattle VA hospital in 2011, but it was four months before the hospital scheduled an appointment for him to have it removed — and by then, it had spread, wrapping around a facial nerve and eventually getting into his blood.
According to attorney Jessica Holman, “Had he had his surgery timely, he’d be alive today.”
In Miami, a criminal investigator for the VA police department in South Florida went to a local television station because, he said, the VA told him to stop investigating drug deals on hospital grounds.
“People are dying,” Detective Thomas Fiore said, “and there are so many things that are going on there that people need to know about.”
Fiore claimed illegal drug deals area occur daily at the hospital, involving, “Anything from your standard prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and of course marijuana, cocaine, heroin, I’ve come across them all.”
He says he was even stopped from investigating reports of missing drugs from the VA pharmacy by the official in charge.
“I was instructed that I was to stop conducting investigations pertaining to controlled substance discrepancies,” by the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro, said Fiore.
The growing scandal could affect upcoming elections, because if the VA problems offer a preview of government-run health insurance, then Republicans may be rapidly acquiring explosive new ammunition in their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Former AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier, now with National Journal, said Obama’s poor handling of the mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs could plague his presidency as an all-time low point.
“The president has known the VA has been a mess for a long time, and hasn’t done anything to get it fixed,” he said.
“It’s gotten worse recently — at least for the last two years, we’ve known we’ve had these problems and nothing’s been done,” said Fournier.
New York times columnist Paul Krugman called the VA a “huge success story” in 2011, saying “[I]t’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense.”
Krugman added, “Yes, this is ‘socialized medicine’ … But it works, and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of US health care more broadly.”
In 2009, his fellow New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, wrote, “Take the hospital system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest integrated health system in the United States. It is fully government run, much more ‘socialized medicine’ than is Canadian health care with its private doctors and hospitals. And the system for veterans is by all accounts one of the best-performing and most-cost-effective elements in the American medical establishment.”
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth