Our nation’s veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country and freedoms. When they return home, many need medical treatment and services. But the quality of care they receive is often less than they deserve due to bad, poorly-performing, or even criminal employees within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
With the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, Congress is hoping to change that.
Since the Phoenix VA wait-list scandal was revealed in 2014, VA leaders have promised to bring reform and accountability to the department. But these stories of disgraceful medical environments show little has been done:
- Problems with surgical tools: Medical staffers reported problems with surgical tools for one in every six surgeries performed at the Cincinnati VA during fiscal year 2015, seriously compromising the safety of hundreds of patients. Some of the problems reported included bone fragments still in drill bits, unsanitary trays, holes in sterile wrappers, and rust on surgical instruments.
- Dirty medical center: A Providence, R.I. VA facility that serves roughly 35,000 veterans annually had serious cleanliness problems for years, which the administration blamed on “larger than normal turnover of housekeeping staff.” Issues included water marks on ceiling tiles, dust and dirt covering floors, mouse infestation, and blood in a stairwell.
- Cockroaches in hospital: Patients at a Chicago-area VA hospital were served cockroaches in their food after the bugs infested the hospital’s kitchen. Workers say the problem had been happening for years before the scandal got the attention of a U.S. Senator.
- Rampant drug abuse: VA executives have been aware of employees stealing drugs from VA facilities since 2009. Eight years later, federal accountability office reports show the problem worsening. But it’s not just VA employees abusing drugs. In Tomah, Wisc., the doctor known as the “Candy Man” finally turned over his medical license after over-prescribing opioids to veterans. And in Arkansas, a specialist in a VA drug-addiction treatment program left a veteran overnight in a crack house! The veteran was then kicked out of the recovery program for failing a drug test.
But the worst examples of all are of veterans being disrespected after death:
- One veteran who died in a Florida hospice care center was left unattended for more than nine hours—first in a hallway and then a shower room—before anyone called the morgue. Investigators categorized staff as “demonstrat[ing] a lack of concern, attention and respect” for the veteran.
- An Illinois VA hospital left the bodies of dead veterans in the morgue without burial for months. One report found a body had liquefied and its bag burst when employees tried to move it.
In many of these instances, it takes months—or longer—for the people responsible to be held accountable. It took more than a year for the drug specialist who helped the veteran buy drugs to have disciplinary action brought against him. And taxpayers were still paying his salary during that time.
It is unacceptable that employees put veterans’ lives at risk when providing care. The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 will make it easier for the VA to fire these bad actors.
All of these veterans—and those whose improper treatment hasn’t come to light—deserve so much better from the department that was created to serve them and those who are tasked with taking care of them.