VA scandal reaches Obama

By Garth Kant

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki

WASHINGTON — If the Veterans Administration scandal is a preview of government-run health insurance, then Republicans are rapidly acquiring explosive new ammunition in their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The scandal is becoming a bigger disaster everyday. Also, more evidence is accumulating that the Obama administration was repeatedly warned about problems at the VA, going back all the way to 2008, before the president even took office.

On Monday, the VA hospital in Albuquerque joined the growing list of facilities accused of having secret waiting lists designed to disguise just how long veterans have gone without treatment, and the conditions described there are appalling.

The Daily Beast cited a whistleblower who said veterans with serious heart conditions, gangrene and even brain tumors waited months for care at the Albuquerque VA hospital.

The whistleblower, a doctor, claimed VA officials are destroying records to cover their tracks, after having used such subterfuge as “an eight-month waiting list for patients to get ultrasounds of their hearts. Some patients have died before they got their studies. It is unknown why they died, some for cardiac reasons, some for other reasons.”

“When everyone found out the IG was doing the audit,” the whistleblower added, “the word I heard was ‘Make sure nothing is left out in the open.’ And that ranged from make sure there’s no food out to make sure there’s no information out in the open.”

New Mexico is now at least the seventh state in which VA hospitals have been accused of keeping a separate set of books, although Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., claimed over the weekend that “similar reports of lengthy waiting lists and other issues have surfaced in at least 10 states.”

The story 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.

However, warning signs actually began appearing much earlier.

  • CNN reported on Jan. 1, that U.S. veterans were dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals. The network found at least 19 veterans have died because of delays in simple medical screenings like colonoscopies or endoscopies at various VA hospitals or clinics. They were part of 82 vets who have died or are dying or have suffered serious injuries as a result of delayed diagnosis or treatment for colonoscopies or endoscopies. The information came from an internal document from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that dealt with patients diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and 2011.
  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, released a letter on April 30, 2013, expressing his concerns with the VA’s plan to address the patient backlog, stating the he had heard “there are still components of the system that are not fully developed and functional.”
  • When White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed last year that the president was “deadly serious” about ending the VA claims backlog, Portman wrote another letter, on June 5, 2013, asking Shinseki why, instead of working to fix the backlog, 188 VA employees were paid to do union work. Portman said, in the practice, known as “official time,” government employees perform union duties instead of official government work. In the VA’s case, he said, employees not performing government work could compromise the well-being of our nation’s veterans.
  • WND reported last week that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., reminded Veterans Affairs 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.

But the most damning revelation may be that the administration knew about the problem since before the president took office, and apparently has done nothing about it.

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.

Veterans Affairs officials reportedly warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the wait times that its facilities were reporting were not trustworthy.

According to a memo the Times obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, “This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying – and potentially denying – deserving veterans timely care.”

The 2008 transition report referred to a VA inspector general recommendation to test the accuracy of reported waiting times, because there could be “questionable differences” between the dates shown in medical records and dates in the Veterans Health Administration’s scheduling system.

And in July 2012, Obama, told the Veterans of Foreign Wars: “The VA and DOD will work harder toward a seamless transition so new veterans aren’t just piled on to the backlog. And we will not rest – I will not be satisfied until we get this right.”

A retired four-star Army general, Shinseki has resisted calls resign as head of the VA. However, Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health in the Department of Veterans Affairs, resigned last week. As WND reported,Petzel had already announced his plans to retire eight months ago – in September 2013. The White House had announced May 1 that Obama was nominating Jeffrey Murawsky as Petzel’s successor.

WND reported last week that Shinseki feared cover-ups of patient deaths may be more widespread than previously believed, and that he had ordered a nationwide access review of all VA facilities.

In fact, he said he had already received reports that compliance is under question at some of those facilities, and admitted he did not know how widespread the problem actually is.

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