Debate Magazine

Veterans Die While Waiting for MONTHS to See a Doctor at VA Hospitals

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals have a rule that medical care is to be provided to patients, i.e., military veterans, in a timely manner, within 14 to 30 days.

The reality however is quite different.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across America, some of whom died while waiting for appointments and care. But nothing was done, despite all the lip service that politicians pay to the wellbeing of veterans. Blah, blah, blah.

On April 24, 2014, CNN published a THIRD report, this time on the utterly unconscionable practices at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans are kept on a secret waiting list for months to a year. 40 of those vets actually died while waiting for an appointment just to see a doctor.

In effect, the long waiting list is a de facto death list.

But the hospital kept the waiting list a secret, while giving Washington politicians a fake “official” list of timely appointments.

VA hospital Phoenix
Here are excerpts from Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin’s report for CNN, “A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list,” April 24, 2014:

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources. [...]

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Dr. Sam Foote just retired after spending 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix. The veteran doctor told CNN in an exclusive interview that the Phoenix VA works off two lists for patient appointments:

There’s an “official” list that’s shared with officials in Washington and shows the VA has been providing timely appointments, which Foote calls a sham list. And then there’s the real list that’s hidden from outsiders, where wait times can last more than a year.

The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules,” said Foote in Phoenix. “They developed the secret waiting list,” said Foote, a respected local physician.

The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days, Foote said.

According to Foote, the elaborate scheme in Phoenix involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care. Officials at the VA, Foote says, instructed their staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system.

Instead, Foote says, when a veteran comes in seeking an appointment, “they enter information into the computer and do a screen capture hard copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer so there’s no record that you were ever here,” he said. [...]

Foote estimates right now the number of veterans waiting on the “secret list” to see a primary care physician is somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600. [...]

Several other high-level VA staff confirmed Foote’s description to CNN and confirmed this is exactly how the secret list works in Phoenix.

Foote says the Phoenix wait times reported back to Washington were entirely fictitious. “So then when they did that, they would report to Washington, ‘Oh yeah. We’re makin’ our appointments within — within 10 days, within the 14-day frame,’ when in reality it had been six, nine, in some cases 21 months,” he said.

In the case of 71-year-old Navy veteran Thomas Breen, the wait on the secret list ended much sooner.

“We had noticed that he started to have bleeding in his urine,” said Teddy Barnes-Breen, his son. “So I was like, ‘Listen, we gotta get you to the doctor.”

Teddy says his Brooklyn-raised father was so proud of his military service that he would go nowhere but the VA for treatment. On September 28, 2013, with blood in his urine and a history of cancer, Teddy and his wife, Sally, rushed his father to the Phoenix VA emergency room, where he was examined and sent home to wait.

“They wrote on his chart that it was urgent,” said Sally, her father-in-law’s main caretaker. The family has obtained the chart from the VA that clearly states the “urgency” as “one week” for Breen to see a primary care doctor or at least a urologist, for the concerns about the blood in the urine.

“And they sent him home,” says Teddy, incredulously. [...]

No one called from the VA with a primary care appointment. Sally says she and her father-in-law called “numerous times” in an effort to try to get an urgent appointment for him. [...]

Thomas Breen died on November 30. The death certificate shows that he died from Stage 4 bladder cancer. Months after the initial visit, Sally says she finally did get a call.

“They called me December 6. He’s dead already.” [...]

Foote says Breen is a perfect example of a veteran who needed an urgent appointment with a primary doctor and who was instead put on the secret waiting list — where he remained hidden.

Foote adds that when veterans waiting on the secret list die, they are simply removed. [...] Foote said that the number of dead veterans who died waiting for care is at least 40. [...]

CNN has obtained e-mails from July 2013 showing that top management, including Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, was well-aware about the actual wait times, knew about the electronic off-the-books list and even defended its use to her staff. [...]

__________________________

Sharon Helman

 

Note: C.J. Ciaramella reports for the Washington Free Beacon that public records show Sharon Helman received more than $9,000 in bonus pay in 2013, in addition to her annual base salary of $169,900. Overall, leadership at the Phoenix VA hospital was paid more than $700,000 in taxpayer money.

__________________________

Last year and earlier this year, Foote also sent letters to officials at the VA Office of the Inspector General with details about the secret electronic waiting list and about the large number of veterans who died waiting for care, many hidden on the secret list. Foote and several other sources inside the Phoenix VA confirmed to CNN that IG inspectors have interviewed them about the allegations.

CNN has made numerous requests to Helman and her staff for an interview about the secret list, the e-mails showing she was aware of it and the allegations of the 40 veterans who died waiting on the list, to no avail. [...]

The Phoenix VA’s “off the books” waiting list has now gotten the attention of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington, whose chairman has been investigating delays in care at veterans hospitals across the country.

According to Rep. Jeff Miller [R-Florida], chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, what was happening in Phoenix is even worse than veterans dying while waiting for care.

Even as CNN was working to report this story, the Florida Republican demanded the VA preserve all records in anticipation of a congressional investigation.

In a hearing on April 9, Miller learned even the undersecretary of health for the VA wasn’t being told the truth about the secret list:

Gordon Duff writes for Veterans Today, April 24, 2014, that “When one of our own groups picketed a massive VA facility for its acts of denial of care and massive corruption, the VA sent out police and then thugs to attack our members, average age 76. Two of our own died during the protest, Steve Palmer and Daniel Overmyer, both decorated World War II veterans. On another front, over 200 veterans who made complaints to the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General were illegally prosecuted in order to shut them up.”

H/t FOTM’s swampygirl

~Eowyn


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