An explosive article in USA Today reports the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has covered up hundreds of employees’ mistakes and withheld information from patients about medical mistakes that were committed in recent years.
USA Today reviewed hundreds of confidential VA records and what they found is astonishing:
“In at least 126 cases, the VA initially found the workers’ mistakes or misdeeds were so serious that they should be fired. In nearly three-quarters of those settlements, the VA agreed to purge negative records from personnel files or give neutral or positive references to prospective employers.”
This is unacceptable. With little to no accountability, the VA allowed serious problems to persist without taking serious action. As an example, the VA found a radiologist in Spokane, Washington who misread dozens of CT scans, which are used to detect tumors and blood clots. Instead of immediately firing him, the USA Today found he was paid $42,000 by the VA of unused sick and leave pay, and then allowed him to resign. Even worse, the VA gave him a clean reference.
The secret settlements viewed by USA Today represent just a tiny portion of the thousands of records that have not been viewed by the public. In the 230 records the USA Today examined, the VA paid employees $6.7 million to settle their malpractice claims. With just a small sample of records viewed, the $6.7 million VA pays employees for malpractice claims is pocket change compared to the thousands of cases that have not been publicly disclosed.
The problems facing the VA are not unique to one facility, but appear in facilities throughout the country. One podiatrist at the VA in Togus, Maine performed surgery on 431 patients. Of those surgeries, 124 patients were found to have suffered potential harm and 127 other patients were “probably harmed,” according to VA primary and secondary reviews. Despite this alarming discovery, the VA would take three years to warn patients of their findings. This had devastating consequences for some veterans.
Kenneth “Jake” Myrick was one patient who suffered from “substandard” care by this doctor. After surgeons reviewed his case, they determined the doctor improperly used a procedure to fix Myrick’s tendons in his ankles, causing him to walk with a cane. It would take years for Myrick to walk correctly after a corrective procedure fixed his aliments caused by the podiatrist.
Myrick summed up his experiences with the VA:
“They were just trying to protect themselves. We are told to have honor, duty and sacrifice. The VA had no honor. They failed in their duties, and they were willing to sacrifice the people they were supposed to serve.”
This demonstrates why passing accountability legislation earlier this year was so crucial to addressing the toxic culture at the VA. In June, lawmakers passed and President Trump signed a bill giving VA Secretary David Shulkin the authority to fire any employee found responsible for negligence or wrongdoing.
Comprehensive reform is still needed at the VA to ensure problems like these don’t persist. Until the VA fundamentally changes, veterans will remain in harm’s way.
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