Whistleblower claims VA continued to cover up vets' deaths despite media attention

Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA hospital where secret waiting lists were first uncovered, recently told CNN’s Drew Griffin that the number of deaths that could be attributed to malpractice at the VA may be larger than what has already been reported. In a report broadcast on Monday, DeWenter alleged a cover-up at the VA which included unidentified administrators changing “deceased” notes on patient files in order to reduce the number of deaths attributed to her hospital.

DeWenter alleged that at least seven times since October, she has noticed that the details of veterans’ deaths “were physically altered, or written over, by someone else” and those vets were relisted as living.

“The alterations had even occurred in recent weeks, she said, in a deliberate attempt to try to hide just how many veterans died while waiting for care, by trying to pretend dead veterans remain alive,” CNN reported.

DeWenter says that the changes were made in order to hide the fact that some veterans died while waiting for care:

“I would say (it was done to) hide the fact. Because it is marked a death. And that death needs to be reported. So if you change that to, ‘entered in error’ or, my personal favorite, ‘no longer necessary,’ that makes the death go away. So the death would never be reported then.”

“Beginning early last year, DeWenter said she was also instructed to hide the crisis at the Phoenix VA medical center by concealing new requests for treatment,” CNN’s reporters revealed. “This was at a time when the VA was paying bonuses to senior staff whose facilities met the goals of providing care in a timely manner for veterans, typically within 14 days.”

But crippling bureaucracy and a lack of available medical professionals prevented that goal from being met. The solution was to create two lists; one that was accurate and another designed to show that the state-imposed goals were being met. “DeWenter, a scheduling clerk, was suddenly making life and death decisions,” CNN reported.

DeWenter said that VA Dr. Sam Foote told everything he knew about the VA scandal to the Office of the Inspector General in November, 2013. “We were waiting, and waiting, and waiting,” DeWenter said. “Nothing happened.”

Foote then decided to go to the media with his revelations. Even the media’s scrutiny of the VA, however, has allegedly not stopped administrators from covering up VA failures.

On Monday, Griffin said that his investigations have convinced him that the VA needs to be entirely gutted and every senior manager let go.

“Based on everything I know, to date, I don’t think that the VA can fix itself,” the CNN reporter declared. “I don’t know how you fix this. I really don’t know, if I was going to give advice, where you would give it, other than I would blanketly throw out every senior manager in the VA.”

“There is an entire bureaucracy here that has been allowing this to happen for years, and years, and years,” Griffin concluded. “I don’t know how you get one administrator at the top who is going to somehow change the culture without throwing out all these people.”