A new U.S. Senate report released Tuesday morning by U.S. Senator and doctor Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), revealed that besides long-waiting lists for veterans to see their doctors and the deaths that occurred at VA hospitals, a culture of crime, cover-ups, and coercion also occurred within the VA with inept congressional and agency oversight that allowed rampant misconduct to grow unchecked.
The report was released by Coburn titled, “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA” and was based on a year-long investigation of VA hospitals around the nation that chronicled the inappropriate conduct and incompetence within the VA that led to well-documented deaths and delays.
Although VA hospital and other medical center problems were evident over the years, the deaths of numerous veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital finally exposed that the Veterans Administration medical centers problems were much deeper than first thought.
“This reports shows the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined. The scope of the VA’s incompetence and Congress’ indifferent oversight is breathtaking and disturbing,” said Coburn. “This investigation found the problems at the VA are far deeper than just scheduling. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of the VA’s misconduct and the VA has paid out nearly $1 billion to veterans and their families for its medical malpractice.”
“As is typical with any bureaucracy, the excuse for not being able to meet goals is a lack of resources. But this is not the case at the VA where spending has increased rapidly in recent years,” Dr. Coburn said.
The report in part revealed a perverse culture within the department where veterans are not always the priority and data and employees are manipulated to maintain an appearance that all is well. Bad employees are rewarded with bonuses and paid leave while whistle-blowers, health care providers, and even veterans and their families are subjected to bullying, sexual harassment, abuse, and neglect. Delays exist for more than just doctors’ appointments and included disability claims, construction, urgent care, and registries are slow or behind schedule.
Despite a nursing shortage, many VA nurses spend their days conducting union activities to advocate for better conditions for themselves rather than veterans.
Other details of the finding found that despite having the authority to do so, the VA was reluctant to let vets off the waiting lists by freeing them go to doctors outside of its system while sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars intended for health care that went unspent year to year. VA doctors are seeing far fewer patients than private doctors and some even leave work early.
Furthermore, criminal activity at the department is pervasive, including drug dealing, theft, and even murder. A VA police chief even conspired to kidnap, rape and murder women and children. Many VA doctors and staff are overpaid and under-worked, some are paid not to work and more and more employees are not even showing up for work and the report identified $20 billion in waste and mismanagement that could have been better spent providing health care to veterans. The federal government has paid out $845 million for VA medical malpractice since 2001.
Another report revealed on Monday reported by TownHall, that internal VA documents shows that the VA even falls short on women’s healthcare and that nearly one in four VA hospitals does not have a full-time gynecologist.
“The Administration and Congress have failed to ensure our nation is living up to the promises we have made to our veterans,” Dr. Coburn said. “As a physician who has personally cared for hundreds of Oklahoma veterans, this is intolerable. As a senator, I’m determined to address the structural challenges of the Department of Veterans Affairs so we can end this national disgrace and improve quality and access to health care for our veterans. But make no mistake. Whatever bill Congress passes cannot ignore the findings of this report. While it is good that Congress feels a sense of urgency we are at this point because Congress has ignored or glossed over too many similar warnings in the past. Our sense of urgency should come from the scope of the problem, not our proximity to an election.”
“The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee largely ignored the warnings about delays and dysfunction at the VA for decades, abdicating its oversight responsibilities and choosing to make new promises to veterans rather than making sure those promises already made were being kept,” said Colburn.
“This report details how Congress was repeatedly alerted and warned of the problems plaguing the VA over decades and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has only held two oversight hearings the last four years, and was even profiled in Wastebook 2012 for being among the committees in Congress holding the fewest number of hearings.”