During a Congressional Hearing last week, both Republican and Democratic members of Congress called the VA’s Internal Report on delays at VA medical facilities a blatant whitewash of serious mismanagement at the Phoenix VA.
The VA’s acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that the VA’s own investigators could not “conclusively” link the deaths of 40 veterans to health care delays.
When Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, asked Griffin, “Can you conclusively say that no deaths occurred because of delays in care?”
Griffin answered, “No. We don’t know.”
That’s typical VA double-speak. Forty veterans died while waiting an exorbitant amount of time for VA medical care, but the VA cannot reach a conclusion about whether or not the delays caused deaths.
That’s a cop out, and the members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs didn’t like it.
After Dr. John Daigh, an assistant inspector general who helped investigate the Phoenix VA, testified that many of the veterans who had died while waiting for care did not have VA medical records because they were new to the VA system, therefore, their cases could not be reviewed.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, angrily challenged the assistant inspector general.
“To draw the conclusion, Dr. Daigh, that you did … that it had no effect on the outcome of those patients, is outrageous. If this were your family member, would you be happy with the explanation you just gave of his death? My suspicion is no.”
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said “common sense tells you” that delays in care could certainly be linked to deaths of patients.
The members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs pointed out that in October 2013 the Phoenix VA investigated and dismissed many allegations of the same scheduling problems at the Phoenix VA, including serious allegations of wrongdoing that were later proven to be true.
When the Phoenix VA later conducted an internal-review of the allegations that administrators incorrectly scheduled appointments and that senior officials discouraged the reporting of related problems, it issued a report whitewashing the situation by saying that many of the allegations could not be substantiated.
But when the VA’s Office of Inspector General later investigated the exact same allegations, it found that Phoenix VA staff members did manipulate appointment data and that senior officials were aware of inappropriate practices, but did nothing about it.
The VA’s inspector general’s report found that 28 veterans had “clinically significant delays” in care, six of whom died, and that executives at Phoenix VA knew about the “unofficial wait lists” schedulers used to hide the delays.
Dr. Sam Foote, a retired Phoenix VA doctor, accused the VA inspector general of stalling the investigation and protecting the senior officials responsible for perpetuating and hiding health care delays.
Foote also said that, in his opinion, the inspector general deliberately used confusing language and suppressed the finding that 293 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA, a figure that was not included in the report.
Foote summed it up by saying, “This report is at best a whitewash and at worst a feeble attempt at a cover up.”
“In my opinion, this was a conspiracy, possibly criminal, perpetrated by senior Phoenix leaders. “The inspector general tries to minimize the damage done and the culpability of those involved by stating that none of the deaths can conclusively be tied to treatment delays.”