What is the VA and what does it do?
VA is the acronym for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet-level organization whose primary function is to support Veterans in their time after service by providing benefits and support. The benefits provided include such items as pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, burial benefits, and healthcare. It is the federal government’s second largest department, after the Department of Defense. The VA’s health-care wing, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), is the largest health-care system in the country, with more than 53,000 independent licensed health-care practitioners and 8.3 million veterans served each year.
What is the current scandal involving the VA?
The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days. But last month, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that as many as forty VA hospital patients in Phoenix, Arizona may have died while awaiting medical care. Miller also claimed that the Phoenix VA Health Care System was keeping two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for ¬doctor appointments and treatment.
According to internal VA emails obtained by CNN, the secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by top-level VA 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. The process involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care, and the head of the office even instructed staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system. This allowed the VA executives in Phoenix to be able to “verify” that patients were being treated in a timely manner
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said similar scandals have surfaced in at least 10 states. The American Legion has documented those cases in the following infographic (click to enlarge).
When did the government know about the problem?
The problem appears to date back at least to the Bush administration. Veterans Affairs officials warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the department shouldn’t trust the wait times that its facilities were reporting.
“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 officials wrote.
According to the Washington Post, Sen. Patty Murray also pointed out during a recent hearing that multiple Government Accountability Office reports dating back to 2000 have highlighted VA treatment delays. She said the department’s inspector general also looked at the issue in 2005, 2007 and 2012, determining each time that schedulers were not following VA policy.
What is being done to correct the problem?
The VA promised an audit at all its clinics, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki placed three Phoenix hospital officials on administrative leave pending an investigation into the hospital’s alleged misdeeds. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General also launched its own investigation, and the Obama administration is sending a top aide to oversee investigations.
On Friday, VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel resigned, just one day after testifying before Congress about the controversy. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a retired Army four-star general, has said he has no intention of resigning. President Obama says that he stands by Shinseki, who he says is “committed to fixing the problem.”
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