By the time the VA got around to it, they’d been dead for years.
(CNN) Hundreds of thousands of veterans listed in the Department of Veterans Affairs enrollment system died before their applications for care were processed, according to a report issued Wednesday.
The VA’s inspector general found that out of about 800,000 records stalled in the agency’s system for managing health care enrollment, there were more than 307,000 records that belonged to veterans who had died months or years in the past.
In a response to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ request to investigate a whistleblower’s allegations of mismanagement at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center, the inspector general also found VA staffers incorrectly marked unprocessed applications and may have deleted 10,000 or more records in the last five years.
In one case, a veteran who applied for VA care in 1998 was placed in “pending” status for 14 years. Another veteran who passed away in 1988 was found to have an unprocessed record lingering in 2014, the investigation found.
Months after the Veterans Administration scandal exploded in the headlines, top officials are still lying and hiding information from Congress, and President Obama is actively trying to roll back the freedom of veterans to seek health care outside of the government system.
That’s the conclusion of Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Last May, the VA was rocked by reports that veterans were forced to wait months for routine medical appointments and that some officials were doctoring hospital and medical records to cover up the failure to provide care. In response, Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned and Congress approved legislation giving future secretaries more freedom to remove ineffective personnel. Former Procter & Gamble Chairman Robert McDonald was eventually confirmed to succeed Shinseki and lead major reform efforts.
Are there signs of improvement?
On Monday evening, the House Veterans Affairs Committee grilled VA General Counsel Leigh Bradley over why more than 100 separate requests for information from the committee have gone unanswered for months and why the information that is given is often found to be false.
“The news only gets worse and worse,” Huelskamp said.
According to Associated Press reports on the hearing, committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., expressed deep frustration with the VA’s lack of cooperation on key facts, including wait times for veterans at the Phoenix hospital where the scandal began.
“Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding: When this committee requests documents, I expect production to be timely, complete and accurate,” Miller said.
Huelskamp is particularly incensed at the falsehoods coming out of the VA, including one stated by Secretary McDonald on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“They have falsified information, and it is not just lying to members of Congress; it’s lying to the American people,” he said. “We even had the secretary about a month ago lie on national television and claim that he had fired 60 employees that made up, falsified, cooked the books on wait times for our vulnerable veterans.”
The real number was nowhere near that high.
“He only fired four,” Huelskamp said. “There’s a big difference between four and 60, so there’s a lack of trust there. But this is, more importantly, a lack of trust between veterans who deserve their care and whether they’re getting in on time and whether they’re getting the proper care.”
And the congressman said the lies don’t stop there.
“The VA claimed that at the (Los Angeles) veterans facility, the wait was only four days,” he said. “We found out later, according to a CNN report, that it’s more than 30 days. Who do you believe? Who I believe is the veteran. If the veteran says they’ve been waiting, that’s what happens.”
Huelskamp said when Congress tries to separate fact from fiction, the massive VA bureaucracy grinds investigations to a halt.
“We’ve had, I think, three secretaries of the VA in my four years here,” he said. “For secretary after secretary and undersecretary after undersecretary, I didn’t know that had that many undersecretaries. They always send a new one over, and the answer is always, ‘We’ll get back to you. We’ll get that answer to you.’
“We have documented where they have lied to the committee, where they have falsified information,” he said.
If anything good came out of the VA scandal, Huelskamp believes it is the provision within last year’s reform bill that allows veterans to access care outside of the government system to shorten how long they wait for care. The congressman said expanded choice is working well for veterans and no longer forces many of them to travel hundreds of miles to approved doctors and facilities. He said that change is further proof the less government is involved in our health care, the better that care will be.
“That’s the best government health care you can get, and what we saw in Phoenix and around the country is that it’s been an abysmal failure,” Huelskamp said.
While the expanded health-care choices may be popular with veterans, Huelskamp said the Obama administration is actively trying to eliminate it.
“When the administration came in and asked to end the Veterans Choice Program, that sent shock waves through Congress because most Democrats and Republicans agree we need to improve the system and give veterans more choice in their health care,” he said.
“There’s a pushback from the administration, but the secretary has agreed – maybe not the president but the secretary has agreed – veterans deserve to keep their choice,” he said. “We’re trying to push the VA in a different direction than Obamacare is taking the rest of the health-care system. I think, at the end of the day, the better model is putting Americans in charge of their health care, not Washington, D.C.”
When will Congress get timely answers and the VA operate more efficiently? Huelskamp said a big part of the problem is a massive government bureaucracy that takes a long time to straighten out.
“There’s a culture of non-accountability, a culture of attacks on whistleblowers. That’s been going on for decades. It’s difficult to change that. That takes years,” said Huelskamp, who estimates some 330,000 bureaucrats are involved in VA operations.
“I think many of them do a terrific job, but it’s a system that’s set up based on the 1950s and ’60s, not 2015,” he said. “So it is a cultural shift at the VA, but the president has to provide leadership. I fear in the next two years, he will continue to drift away from any commitments to veterans in terms of reforming the system.”
What about Secretary McDonald? Is he the right man to lead this change?
“We’ll see if the secretary can answer those questions we asked a couple of nights ago,” Huelskamp said. “Some of these questions have been outstanding for months, which will give us insight (into) whether they’re really making the changes that were promised.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller told DC-based WMAL Radio on Tuesday about his congressional staffers recently being spied on when they looked into various VA complaints at a regional Veterans Benefits Administration office.
His staff was told on “three different occasions” to go to a specific room to do their work but one VA employee said it wasn’t necessary.
Miller, a Republican from Florida, recounted that the “VBA’s acting director took that employee outside” for several minutes and when they returned, his staff was directed again to the specific room on a different floor.
His staffers discovered the room’s sound and video system were prepared to observe their work while they reviewed case files.
“In that room, both of the mics were hot and the camera itself was activated,” the committee chairman told WMAL host Larry O’Connor.
Miller continued, “My staff said, ‘We’re not going to do it in this room,’ and they requested to be taken to another room.”
VBA relocated the committee staffers after they pushed back about the use of the room.
When Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey was confronted at Monday night’s congressional VA hearing about the spying incident, Miller said that “there was no attempt to deny that it had occurred.”
Obama has been dodging the VA scandal from the get go, and as it seems that he’s tried to distract Americans with other “good news” (i.e. Bergdahl trade) that has only blown up in his face, it seems that the current administration is literally falling apart. Most recently, it appears the scandal has recently blown wide open with another bombshell accusation regarding the number of veterans that has actually died.
Now when the first reports of the VA scandal broke, numbers were around 40 veterans that had died due to delayed treatment with numbers as high as 120. Currently though, it appears that yet again, Americans have been lied to, this time to the extent of covering up over the actual 1,000 veterans that actually died.
If you were still unaware of the scandal, the VA created a secret list in which veterans were placed in order to delay them treatment and give the facility the false appearance that they were more effective than they really were. Unfortunately for those veterans – some of which were in dire need of critical treatment – they’re requests were thrown in the trash and forgotten about.
All of a sudden, people started dying because of the VA’s incompetence and secretive policy of abandoning our veterans.
Now, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA, Pauline DeWenter, has come forward to share an even more shocking discovery. While working there, she noticed VA administration “reclassifying” deceased veterans as “alive” to make the number of the dead appear much lower.
Once again, in a shocking discovery, the VA is proving its incompetence and that its malicious acts know no bounds when it comes to self-preservation. Furthermore, Sen. Tom Coburn has recently come forward to say:
“Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance. Poor management is costing the department billions of dollars more and compromising veterans’ access to medical care.”
These two shocking admissions has not only blow the VA scandal wide open, but has left a gaping wound in the confidence this nation has in its government. Surely now, with that many dead due to nothing more than incompetence and laziness, the American people will demand justice.
For America to turn its backs on those that have honorably served this country, is not only despicable, but nauseating.
The White House on Monday came under increased pressure to launch a criminal probe of the Veterans Affairs Department after an audit found more than 100,000 veterans were kept waiting for medical care.
The audit uncovered evidence of widespread tampering of documents at Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics, with schedulers receiving direction from their superiors to use “unofficial lists” to make the waiting times for appointments “appear more favorable.”
The audit found more than 57,000 veterans waited at least 90 days to see a doctor, and an additional 63,000 people over the past decade never received an initial appointment at all.
Republican leaders in Congress called the findings a “national disgrace” as members of both parties demanded the Justice Department prosecute the officials responsible.
“The Department of Justice should get off the sidelines and start actively pursuing charges where applicable to the fullest extent of the law,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
In the Senate, 11 Democrats joined 10 Republicans in urging an “effective and prompt” investigation by federal authorities. The leaders of the push – Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – said criminal charges shouldn’t wait on the results of a VA inspector general (IG) investigation that will be released in August.
“The spreading and growing scale of apparent criminal wrongdoing is fast outpacing the criminal investigative resources of the IG, and the revelations in the interim report only highlight the urgency of involvement by the Department of Justice,” the senators wrote.
The damaging findings of the audit could spur Congress into quick action on legislation aimed at fixing the VA’s problems and clearing the backlog for treatment.
The Senate is likely to vote this week on a compromise bill from McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would allow veterans experiencing long wait times to seek private medical care. The bill would allow for immediate firings of VA employees and expedite the hiring of medical staff.
“I am happy to schedule a vote on it as quickly as possible,” Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.
On the other side of the Capitol, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the House would act this week on a “common-sense bill” that would allow veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment to seek private care.
The audit released Monday, while harshly critical of the VA, pushed some of the blame to Congress, arguing the goal of setting up appointments within 14 days was “not attainable” given the growing demand for services.
Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, stressed that point even as he called for the immediate firing of “incompetent administrators and those who have manipulated wait-time data.”
“The reason certain VA facilities around the country have long wait times is because they lack an adequate number of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners,” Sanders said.
Still, the audit represents a harsh and sweeping indictment of the VA.
About 500 of the VA staffers interviewed, or 13 percent, said they received instructions to enter appointment dates different from what veterans had requested, and 8 percent, or about 300, said they used “alternatives” to the official scheduling system.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is scrambling to try and clean up the department.
In a release accompanying the audit, the VA promised that cases of “willful misconduct” would be investigated so that “appropriate personnel actions” can be taken.
“Where appropriate, VA will initiate the process of removing senior leaders,” the VA said.
Gibson said the VA was in the process of contacting more than 90,000 veterans during the first phase of a new initiative accelerating care. He said 50,000 had been contacted so far.
Those steps are unlikely to stem pressure on the White House, which is trying to contain the damage from the scandal before it becomes an albatross on Democrats in the midterm elections.
The White House said the release of the audit reflected President Obama’s “commitment to try to be transparent” about the process of reforming the department.
“This is a large task,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “There is no sugar-coating that. But it is a task the president’s never been more dedicated to.”