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‘Where Is the Urgency While Our Veterans are Neglected?’

Administration tries keeping down the volume on scandal over the VA waitlist deaths, but the tragedy isn't confined to Phoenix.

by
Bridget Johnson

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May 7, 2014 - 6:39 pm
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WASHINGTON — When the claims backlog at the Veterans Affairs Administration hovered at around 900,000 veterans waiting 125 days or more for processing, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called it “simply not acceptable for any veteran to wait many months or years for the benefits that they are entitled to receive.”

“This is a priority for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. We will do everything we can to make sure that a broken claims system is fixed,” Sanders said in February 2013, vowing to quickly hold a hearing to get the wheels turning on reform.

“It is my view, and I believe the view of every member of this committee, that when men and women put their lives on the line defending this country, they must be treated with respect and dignity when they return,” the chairman said at a March 13, 2013, hearing. “Not with red tape and bureaucracy, not with, in some cases, years of delay.”

When Nevada lawmakers lobbied the VA in April 2013 to get their constituents’ backlogged claims moving, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it “a shame” that veterans “have to endure extensive waiting times to receive the services they require.”

Indeed, veterans affairs has traditionally been a cause without party on Capitol Hill, a powerful commitment from both sides of the aisle to rally behind the men and women who have served this country.

As the news surfaced on CNN late last month that up to 40 veterans had died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, patients allegedly added to a secret waiting list to cover the VA’s tracks, some lawmakers cried out for immediate congressional oversight. Lives were at stake, they maintain, and emergency hearings should be convened to prevent any more veterans from falling through the cracks of a potentially plodding internal investigation.

The sense of urgency and unity that surrounded the claims backlog has been harder to find in this latest scandal, stoking disturbing questions about whether the administration is hoping or even encouraging that the crisis take an extended rest on the back burner.

“Dozens of veterans may have died while waiting for care on a secret list devised by VA bureaucrats to conceal actual wait times. Similar cases of deception are popping up around the country and most recently in my home state of Texas,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told PJM today.

“Meanwhile, the president has called for urgent action on climate change while he jets to Bel Air and Beverly Hills for fundraisers and Harry Reid continues his obsession with the Koch brothers,” Cornyn added. “Where is the urgency while our veterans are neglected?”

CNN obtained internal emails revealing that top officials at the VA in Phoenix knew about and defended the practice of concealing 1,400 to 1,600 ill veterans who were forced to wait for months to see a physician. A retired doctor there told the network that the procedure was in place to circumvent VA rules about wait times.

“Congress should conduct emergency hearings to get the information necessary to fully root out these problems and President Obama should immediately designate an official responsible for implementing rapid changes,” Cornyn said in the wake of the “heartbreaking and infuriating” report. “This is not a time for more cover-ups, it is time for accountability.”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) noted that weeks ago he called for a “complete and thorough inspector general investigation into delays in VA care,” stressing that the committee had already amassed evidence in its own investigation showing that patient schedules had been manipulated in order to make it appear that appointments were received faster than they actually were.

“If proven true, these charges will only add to the growing pattern of preventable veteran deaths and patient safety incidents at VA medical centers across the country that are united by one common theme: VA’s extreme reluctance to hold its employees and executives accountable,” Miller said in a statement at the end of April. “In fact, if you look at recent VA preventable deaths linked to mismanagement – in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Columbia, S.C., Augusta, Ga., and Memphis, Tenn. – department executives who presided over mismanagement are more likely to have received a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment.”

Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake also called on Sanders to launch an investigation and hearings on the report. The chairman, though, said he would wait for the VA’s inspector general to probe the case first.

“I am sure that you will agree with me that an objective inquiry into these allegations is necessary before holding a hearing on this issue,” Sanders told his colleagues. “…Once the IG collects additional information, we can engage in a more informed deliberation on the allegations in Phoenix. You have requested a hearing on this issue and I will commit to holding a hearing once the IG’s inquiry is complete.”

One Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee wasn’t satisfied with that.

“As a government, we should be ashamed of the poor administration of care for our sick veterans who sacrificed – putting their own lives on the line – for our country,” Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said. “I am calling for an immediate hearing to investigate these practices and make sure that no veteran ever has to endure a life-threatening wait like those in Arizona have. Our veteran community and their families deserve justice.”

Bipartisan concern was also seen in the House, where Arizona Reps. Matt Salmon (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) offered an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 that would give $1 million additional funding to the OIG to provide oversight and accountability at the Veterans Administration.

Sinema called the reports of wait-list deaths “immoral, unconscionable, irresponsible and un-American.”

“We need answers in Phoenix but this is not an isolated incident. Stories of health complications and deaths because of wait times have surfaced in other places around the country including South Carolina and Texas,” she said. “That this is happening to the good people who have defended our flag and our freedoms is beyond the pale.”

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Top Rated Comments   
Obama and the congress sure won't fix this. Bush and the republican congress didn't either, although under Obama it does seem to be getting even worse. However, I think this problem will "fix" itself, in a sense anyway.

Once Obamacare is fully implemented, and 30 million "Dreamers " get all fully on board to boot, all American "health care", except for a separate system for the rich and politically connected, will be pretty much just like the "care" veterans are getting now, or even worse, and veterans won't be getting scroomed anymore than non-Veterans.

Or if you would like it put somewhat differently, it will become, "We are all veterans now". You see, although the total amount of scroomage will be much greater, it will be more evenly distributed scroomage, and that's the most important thing to achieve under Fundamental Transformation - Equality of Scroomage ... ... except for the rich and the politically connected as always, of course
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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How many years has it been since we've had a government that really cares about veterans? Well, I have to admit the right has done more for them than the left, certainly. The last leftie that did anything according to my recollection was Kennedy.....none since.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bernie Sanders found out that veterans were waiting four months for treatment. He demanded the VA fix this. The VA leapt into action. They hid the list of veterans waiting for treatment. The problem disappeared. Bernie was happy. Harry Reid was happy. Why are you people such soreheads?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
This system is beyond broken. Any Veteran will tell you this, and each of us has a litany of stories to illustrate the fact. In my 55+ years, it is the only system I have ever dealt with, in which they can literally quash evidence of injury, arbitrarily deny something, or make a huge paperwork error and then exonerate themselves from any culpability.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is anything NOT covered up by this regime? Out w/ the garbage!
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
This reads like a giant bureaucratic problem which is being indicated so tragically and immediately in the Medical field where decisions must be made stat, and not dependent upon governmental bureaucratic tables/charts of organization and chains of command.

The Medical staff simply have more patients than they can handle. The Medical staff seem to have the short end of the bureaucratically controlled allocation of cash.

[The Medical part of the Veterans Administration is also a harbinger of sub rosa problems yet to emerge inside the corridors of socialized ObamaCare.]

Circular "Investigations" therefore are a further waste of time. The horrifically increasing dollar costs and budget destroying effects of modern sophisticated medical treatment must be addressed immediately. What "investigation" is needed?.... the Veterans' deaths awaiting treatment is the evidence staring these Congressional blowhards in the face.

Expect this to be vigorously denied in Congress; they don't like the Buck stopping inside their Committees.

But, above all, do not point any fingers at the V.A.'s understaffed Doctors and Nurses themselves, again....they simply have more patients than they can treat effectively.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Then why haven't they been outspoken about the issues?
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good work,Bridget! The VA failures to offer our veterans prompt treatment should be a scandal to list prominently with the IRS and Benghazi, and oh, Fast and Furious, and the Car Company Catastrophe, all the renewable energy fraud and bankruptcy. There's rather a long list, isn't there?

When government bureaucracies get so unwieldy that their single purpose cannot be accomplished, government is too big. Nobody notices the failures, they are just swept under the bureaucratic rug.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Welcome to universal, LCD, single-payer healthcare.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
On an unrelated note, please fire whoever is re"design"ing the site. It looks horrible now, have they ever heard of a color palette?
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
The VA has been a basket case since forever. We have three generations of veterans in my family, each with some level of disability. (from 10 to 100%)

We all know to only depend on the VA for things we can't afford to get elsewhere. Certainly not primary healthcare.

I don't care much for Obama, but the problems with the VA predate his administration.

In fact, the problems with the VA predate all the recent administrations.

The biggest problem with the VA is that it is run by the government.

I am not sure how to provide a government benefit without involving the government, but that seems to be the root of the problem.

Maybe we should ask the Koch brothers to run it. Harry Reid seems to be convinced that they run everything else in the world. (I guess the Illuminati has the week off)
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
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