A new report from the Associated Press (AP) has found that Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) facilities nationwide are seeing a “sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees.” The report also states that drug tracking and oversight at the VA are far less stringent than they should be. A check by Congressional auditors found “four VA hospitals skipped monthly inspections of drug stocks or missed other requirements.”
Just this month, three VA employees in Little Rock, Arkansas were charged with conspiracy to steal prescription medication and conspiracy to distribute. An investigation that began in June revealed that the stolen medication—oxycodone, hydrocodone, and more— cost taxpayers approximately $77,700, with an estimated street value of more than $160,000.
Charges in Arkansas were filed this month – more than six months after the crimes were discovered. These employees (along with many others according to AP) have been stealing from VA facilities – which in turn is stealing from taxpayers and from veterans. These acts also put those in the community at risk by distributing un-prescribed opioids and other medications to the public. Since it seems that the situation in Little Rock is just the tip of the iceberg that is narcotics theft, perhaps no situation makes a stronger case for accountability measures and disciplinary reforms at the VA.
Unfortunately, this kind of slow, bureaucratic response is all too common at the VA. It’s a systemic issue, one that makes it nearly impossible to fire employees—even if they put veterans and civilians alike in danger and waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Under current law, even if these employees are found guilty, they could still keep their jobs.
The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, reintroduced by Sen. Marco Rubio earlier this year, seeks to change the system. This law would make it easier to fire bad employees at the VA while strengthening protections for whistleblowers.
For far too long, the VA has been plagued by scandals. As the nation battles opioid addiction, special attention must be paid to squashing it in government run VA facilities and swiftly getting rid of the employees responsible for perpetuating the problems.
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