More than 1,000 veterans have died over the last decade as a result of a failure to provide care or malpractice by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the findings of a new report authored by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
The report, “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA,” complies the findings of a number of government and media investigation and concludes that many more veterans lost their lives as a result of VA negligence than the 23 deaths to which the department has admitted.
“The problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined,” Coburn said.
“Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance,” the senator added. “Poor management is costing the department billions of dollars more and compromising veterans’ access to medical care.”
In addition to the wrongful deaths the report attributes to poor practices at the VA, it also indicates that malpractice lawsuits against the VA resulted in $845 million in settlements. $36.4 million of that was used to settle claims involving delayed care.
As The Washington Times indicated, some of the anecdotes of substandard practices at the VA are “downright ghoulish.”
One involves a Philadelphia veteran who went in for a tooth extraction. Doctors went ahead with the procedure despite his dangerously low blood pressure. On his way home from the operation, he had a stroke and was left paralyzed.
Another veteran had annual chest X-rays, but doctors never spotted a growing lesion in his lung. It ultimately killed him.
A veteran in South Carolina had to wait nine months for a colonoscopy. By the time he underwent the procedure, cancer was diagnosed at stage three. In that case, the VA admitted that had he been treated earlier, his case might not have been as severe, Mr. Coburn said.
The report also alleges that the VA routinely performs unnecessary preventative care, cannot process claims in a timely fashion, employs health care providers who have lost their medical licenses, and – as has been widely reported – maintains secret waiting lists in order to create the impression that the department is meeting performance goals set in Washington.
The report further alleges that some VA staff have been implicated in criminal activities, including drug dealing, sexual abuse, attempted kidnapping, theft, and conspiracy. “Earlier this year, one former staffer at the Tampa, Florida, VA was sentenced to six years in federal prison for trading veterans’ personal information for crack cocaine,” CNN reported on Tuesday.
In spite of these failures, VA senior managers are still receiving bonuses.
“At a congressional hearing Friday, Gina Farrisee, the VA assistant secretary for human resources and administration, confirmed that 78% of VA senior managers qualified for extra pay or other compensation in fiscal year 2013, despite ongoing delay and malpractice controversies,” the CNN report continued.
Judging from the contents of Coburn’s report, the controversy involving falsified wait lists at the VA may have been merely the tip of the scandalous iceberg.