The Government Accountability Office released a report this week confirming that the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to report poorly performing doctors at an incredibly high rate over the last several years. And, the VA’s handling of complaints about certain doctors has been slow, taking months or years in some instances.
The GAO stressed that the VA needs to increase and strengthen its oversight processes as “veterans may be at increased risk of receiving unsafe care through the VA health care system.”
This isn’t the first report of concealed provider misconduct this year. In October, USA Today reported that the Togus, Maine, VA hospital had neglected to fire and report a podiatrist who reportedly “made mistakes that harmed veterans” in 88 cases. The report found that the failure to report misconduct is systemic:
- In the five VA medical centers the GAO reviewed, 148 providers required review based on concerns over medical care.
- In almost half those cases, these VA medical centers couldn’t provide documentation of reviews.
- It took anywhere from three months to years for the VA to begin reviewing 16 of these providers.
- Eight out of nine providers who had “adverse privileging actions taken against them or who resigned during investigation related to professional competence or conduct” were not reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
- None of those nine were reported to state licensing boards.
The VA has overlooked veterans in dangerous situations with incompetent medical providers; it has also endangered the general public by failing to report these employees. Last month, VA Secretary David Shulkin directed his agency to begin reporting all poorly performing providers to the national database rather just certain providers. The agency also began making public settlement agreements over $5,000. Yesterday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to understand how the VA can further enhance its policing of these matters.
Allowing veterans to seek medical care outside the broken and inept VA health care system would help fix this problem. Currently, there are multiple bills on the table that would overhaul the Veterans Choice Program, the best of which is the Veterans Empowerment Act introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn. This bill would cut bureaucratic red tape and allow greater choice so veterans can access care from private providers. It would also increase oversight and transparency in the department to ensure veterans are getting the best possible care within the VA.
Veterans have earned their medical care, whether inside or outside the VA. No veteran should be subject to a broken system that allows the misconduct and inadequacy the GAO has brought to light. Click here to tell your elected official to honor the promise made to veterans and support the Veterans Empowerment Act.
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