Video: Senate Dem calls for VA reform bill as new allegations arise

posted at 11:31 am on May 24, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Two days ago, Senate Democrats shrugged off the House bill that would allow more flexibility to terminate VA officials who contributed to the wait-list fraud scandal that has exploded over the past month. Yesterday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) shifted to a demand for Senate action, if not outright changes at the top, as more allegations of wrongdoing emerged:

What moved Nelson off of the party line expressed by Chuck Schumer, who offered a platitude about handling things administratively instead of Congressional action? Miami’s CBS affiliate reported on accusations of more deaths from long wait times due to bungled resource management, adding to the deaths seen in Phoenix:

In February, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Miami VA hospital complained to one of his superiors that “patients had died” because a piece of equipment that might have saved their lives was left in a Broward warehouse, according to an email obtained by CBS4 News.

The February 27 email was sent by Dr. Tomer Karas to the VA’s chief of surgery Dr. Seth Spector. In the email, Karas complained about a device known as the TandemHeart – which keeps blood following during certain sensitive procedures.

“It is my understanding that the TandemHeart has never been used here because of a nursing administration issue,” Karas wrote. “I am not clear on what the issue is but I believe it has to do with concerns over competency and training.”

In his email to Spector, Karas went on to relay a conversation he had with a VA cardiologist, Dr. Carlos Alfonso.

“In discussions with Dr. Alfonso,” Karas wrote, “I understand that patients have died in our cath lab due to inability to offer a higher level of support … even while the TandemHeart was physically available.”

Karas then added: “I am told the TandemHeart currently resides in a warehouse in Broward.”

Note that the VA actually owns the Tandem Heart device, so it’s not a lack of proper equipment. They just haven’t bothered to take it out of storage, while veterans have allegedly died from its absence. How many other pieces of critical equipment get purchased, only to sit in warehouses while veterans wait for quality medical care?

And how long are they really waiting? This Fort Collins veteran had to wait months for an MRI despite an emergency-room admission for a brain injury:

After a bad fall, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Tom Mehan ended up in the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s emergency room. He told CBS4 he waited months for care.

“Some of my senses blanked out for a while, then came back a little; my taste, hearing, sight came back. I was thankful about that,” Mehan said.

Mehan says doctors ran some tests immediately, but for other procedures he had to wait.

“They told me I fainted after doing the tests they did and that took like three months to get the MRI scheduled,” Mehan said.

The Cheyenne center defended its record:

A spokesman for the Cheyenne center issued a statement on the matter

“It is important to allow OIG’s independent and objective review to proceed until completion, and OIG has advised VA against providing information that could potentially compromise their ongoing review,” it said in the statement.

“When you come in as an ER patient in a civilian hospital they just go through everything pretty quick, comparatively speaking,” Mehan said.

Last year, while working at home, I began to have symptoms of a stroke — a lack of symmetry in my facial muscles, difficulty seeing out of one eye, and dizziness. We called for an ambulance and got admitted to the ER. Less than two hours later, they had me in the MRI looking for potential brain damage. (Insert your joke here.) It turned out to be nothing — a form of migraine which I had not experienced before — and I went home relieved. My symptoms were nowhere near as profound as Mehan’s, and I cannot imagine having to wait three months to determine whether my brain was bleeding or not.

This single-payer system clearly does not work, and we’ve wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on it while top officials did nothing to fix it. That was also the Wall Street Journal’s conclusion yesterday:

President Obama addressed the Veterans Affairs scandal on Wednesday, saying he’s waiting for an Inspector General “audit” of what went wrong. And the press corps is debating whether VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should be fired. These are sideshows. The real story of the VA scandal is the failure of what liberals have long hailed as the model of government health care.

Don’t take our word for it. As recently as November 2011, Paul Krugman praised the VA as a triumph of “socialized medicine,” as he put it: “What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense.”

Ah, yes, the VA lacks the evil profit motive. What the egalitarians ignore, however, is that a government system contains its own “perverse incentives,” such as rationing that leads to treatment delays and preventable deaths, which the bureaucracy then tries to cover up. This isn’t an accident or one-time error. It is inherent in a system that allocates resources by political force rather than individual consumer choices. The VA is ObamaCare’s ultimate destination.

If this is what GovernmentCare does to our veterans, what would be in store for the rest of us?


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Surprising that the Hippocratic oath hasn’t moved more healthcare providers to blow the whistle.

socalcon on May 24, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Watching vets die on wait lists suggests that (by whatever name) Palin was right about the Death Panels. That argues against increasing government power and in favor of limited government.

It is as clear as the first amendment protecting everybody’s right to pray.

And it still takes a fortuitous alignment of events for a majority voters to see it. People are people.

ShadrachSmith on May 24, 2014 at 11:44 AM

welcome to our hell civilians..

dmacleo on May 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM

Surprising that the Hippocratic oath hasn’t moved more healthcare providers to blow the whistle.

socalcon on May 24, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Almighty $$$ > Their Oath

Scottie on May 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM

You want to talk politics?

Nothing coming from the house was ever going to get past the senate.

At the expense of vets, the house will be de-legitimized.

It’s been reids game all along.

It’s never been about what’s best. It’s all about power.

Making the House of Representatives mute.

And Boehner faciitates it all.

wolly4321 on May 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM

And it’s not like there aren’t a ton of private MRIs around. Why wouldn’t the VA just send them to one of those and pay the cost? As for the TandemHeart, don’t the curtains look nice.

Cindy Munford on May 24, 2014 at 11:48 AM

This is just so disgraceful it makes my stomach turn.

gophergirl on May 24, 2014 at 11:53 AM

Surprising that the Hippocratic oath hasn’t moved more healthcare providers to blow the whistle.

socalcon on May 24, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Considering what’s happened to whistleblowers under the Obama regime(including for this scandal), you can’t blame some folks for being afraid of losing their careers.

Doughboy on May 24, 2014 at 11:57 AM

I think bonuses are wildly inappropriate for taxpayer-funded employees. Especially when they motivate a certain class of person to cheat. Most regular private sector jobs have no performance bonuses available – they let you keep your job. That’s the “bonus.”

And there are no pensions. I would like to see an end to government employee pensions, they’re ridiculous. Why should taxpayers shower bureaucrats with benefits they don’t enjoy themselves?

This system simply makes no sense.

disa on May 24, 2014 at 11:59 AM

It isn’t stated outright but it is so loudly implied: “oh well, veterans and military generally are conservative, so who cares”.

tru2tx on May 24, 2014 at 12:00 PM

It isn’t about doing the right thing. The vets,, and all of us are stuck in a war to dissolve the House.

You see the damage. It’s only the beginning.

How many house bills has the senate taken up? The ones they did were slammed.

Face it,, it’s another powergrab.

There will be victims.

Bicameral Congress? Not anymore.

Do you understand what that means? All the protections that were inherent in that design are removed.

Gone.

Read the reason for these checks in the Federalist papers. Then understand the abuses yet to come.

wolly4321 on May 24, 2014 at 12:07 PM

The GOP needs to loudly & continually associate this scandal with Obamacare, framing the “VA treatment” as the inevitable outcome for all government-managed healthcare in America. Then they need to dare the o-care lovers to offer any evidence to the contrary.
PS — Glad your scare didn’t turn out to be a stroke, Ed.

KS Rex on May 24, 2014 at 12:09 PM

I have read that the VA is quite vindictive in punishing whistle blowers in spite of laws against it. Any reform effort should address this in exquisite detail.

butch on May 24, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Well of course the Dem. wants something done. Nancy Pelosi told us yesterday that it was Bush’s fault, so now the Dems. can run with it..

sandee on May 24, 2014 at 12:33 PM

But triple told me they just fudged their wait list.

rogerb on May 24, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Considering what’s happened to whistleblowers under the Obama regime(including for this scandal), you can’t blame some folks for being afraid of losing their careers.

Doughboy on May 24, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Careers?!

What careers? Posing as a fake ‘I-care-about-you-soooo- much,-I-went-to-medical-school-to-take-care-of-you-and-collect-$$-over-your-dead-body-doctor?’
I’ve worked with these people. Some are great. Some are complete knuckle-dragging slobs.

I hope you left the /sarc tag off.

avagreen on May 24, 2014 at 12:47 PM

Obama is following his usual path of stonewalling and babbling meaningless rhetoric, while hoping that it will all go away.

rplat on May 24, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Shaking my head in sorrow for my own husband and these other Vets. Mine went in with stomach cramps and never came out. He was only 44 years old.

Stomach cramps.

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 1:08 PM

Shaking my head in sorrow for my own husband and these other Vets. Mine went in with stomach cramps and never came out. He was only 44 years old.

Stomach cramps.

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 1:08 PM

Oh, I’m so sorry. This must be hitting you really hard…

sandee on May 24, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 1:08 PM

I am so, so sorry, KWR, for you, your family, and your husband. I hope the grief has healed some.

Years ago when I was child, my b-i-l had his broken leg permanently screwed up by the Amarillo, TX VA hospital from a motorcycle accident he was in, while working as a patrol police officer (riding his motorcycle). He had a permanent limp the rest of his life.. He was in/out for two years at the VA. Just left him more crippled each time. At least once, they re-broke it in an attempt to make it better. He hated the VA, and cursed them the rest of his life. Don’t think he ever went back.

Your story is so much more worse.

Our vets deserve so much better.

avagreen on May 24, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Federal union members killing the public and getting praises and raises for it. And they seem to control the President, the Senate, and investigations.

pat on May 24, 2014 at 1:23 PM

avagreen on May 24, 2014 at 1:21 PM

sandee on May 24, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Thank you both… Memorial Day this year is quite different. I just pray for these Veterans – of all the people in the world they deserve the best.

I hope that the public at large understands that THIS IS WHAT OBAMACARE will do if it is not repealed. Very sad state of affairs we are in with this Marxist Leftist at the helm.

Damn him.

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Quick…we need more government bureaucracy and oversight to fix this!!!

trs on May 24, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Michelle Obama’s Patient Dumping Scheme

From 2009. Save the link before it is scrubbed.

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Shaking my head in sorrow for my own husband and these other Vets. Mine went in with stomach cramps and never came out. He was only 44 years old.

Stomach cramps.

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 1:08 PM

I’m sorry. It’s unbelievable that illegal aliens and terrorists at GITMO receive better medical care than veterans.

bw222 on May 24, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Key West Reader on May 24, 2014 at 2:00 PM

I did. I copied it and pasted it to save it.

Damn their eyes! All of them/both of them.

I hope their ears fail, their eyes and teeth fall out and they are left to be cared for by the system they’ve created, with no one who gives a damn caring for them.

avagreen on May 24, 2014 at 2:10 PM

it is really a measure of our deeply nihilistic, looking out for myself, culture that we’ve devolved into.

Public workers unions could care less…they are protected. NYC has rubber rooms for teachers they can not fire. Lies are lauded and praised, ideology trump truth.

the uncovering of the Piketty errors/manipulations is sending socialist economists into a frenzy of deceit.

Brad DeLong and the Wonkblog cherry pick graphs to make it all feel better…to let the lies stand.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/05/23/is-pikettys-capital-full-of-mistakes/

but they are just clinging to their old dustbin, hoping someday to change the world thru force, if not scholarship

this massive take down needs to be read

http://pejmanyousefzadeh.net/2014/05/23/facts-are-stubborn-things-as-thomas-piketty-is-beginning-to-find-out/

and just like CAGW…same old same old. Remember the good old days when ‘fake but accurate’ was a joke? There’s nothing funny here, the Left needs lies to live…the more outrageous the better

like government run h/c is cost effective and good medicine….when in fact it is just one more make work program for the workers unions

r keller on May 24, 2014 at 2:15 PM

This whole thing is just shameful. How much are you willing to bet that this gets swept under the MSM rug like Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NSA, filing charges against a reporter, Holder telling State AGs that they can choose what charges to pursue, Holder not pursuing Black Panther voter intimidation, etc.

COgirl on May 24, 2014 at 6:11 PM

REFORM?

People faked the appointment times to make the numbers look better and took thousands of dollars in bonuses for the “improvement.” Is the solution to criminal fraud to “reform” and tell them not to do it again?

Deaths which occur, even unintentionally, related to the commission of a felony are under the law felony MURDER.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, even thousands of such employees at the VA. And the scheme was hatched in DC by someone, it didn’t arise spontaneously in at least 27 places (so far). All of these offenders need to prosecuted and sent to prison.

REFORM?

I’ve got your reform right here: SHUT IT DOWN. Give every qualifying vet the same insurance every other federal employee has, with the exception that the government covers the deductibles and co-pays. It would be far cheaper than maintaining an inefficient and substandard separate system run by criminals.

REFORM?

In Phoenix and San Diego, the average private cardiologist sees more patients than EIGHT cardiologists on the VA payroll. How do you “reform” that?

Adjoran on May 24, 2014 at 6:15 PM

I’ve got your reform right here: SHUT IT DOWN. Give every qualifying vet the same insurance every other federal employee has, with the exception that the government covers the deductibles and co-pays. It would be far cheaper than maintaining an inefficient and substandard separate system run by criminals.
Adjoran on May 24, 2014 at 6:15 PM

I said it here on Hot Air during the run up to the passage of ObamaCare. These problems were completely predictable and the solutions are not that hard to figure out. The only thing missing is the will to do it. I would also add to your solution, the VA should auction off all of its property (buildings and equipment) to private healthcare providers to create a fund to help pay for the medical expenses of vets.

txmomof6 on May 24, 2014 at 6:41 PM