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Secret Lists at the VA

In recent weeks news broke out of Arizona that a Veterans Affairs Hospital failed to follow up with veterans seeking medical care within a required amount of time, and in many situations ignore veterans who needed an immediate check-up, medication, treatment or other assistance. Many of these veterans suffered worse illnesses and some died as a result of not getting the adequate care they needed. It is awful enough how the VA in general has a backlog on serving our brave veterans, who risk their lives to defend our country and deserve our care and concern when they return home, and for the rest of their lives. It was a recently retired physician from the facility who blew the whistle on this scandal to the Arizona Republic after also attempting to go through Congress as well as the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

What is worse in this current scandal, is how this particular Veterans Affairs Hospital in Phoenix maintained “secret waiting lists” that effectively kept secret that these men and women were awaiting medical care. When the facility could forecast that it would be able to see a veteran patient within a certain time that conformed to VA regulations, it would move that person onto the official waiting list for the first time to make it seem as if his or her wait time was adequate and reasonable. This official list is what is reported to the main agency and any other relevant bodies in Washington, D.C., and the Phoenix facility sought to make things appear as if everything was okay. On top of this, they shredded evidence of the secret lists to cover up the failure to adequately care for veterans.

These veterans waited months on end for the care they not only deserve but to which they are also entitled. According to at least one report, between approximately 1,400 and 1,600 veterans had to wait months for their doctor visit. Many died as a result of not being seen or getting the care they needed, with some reports showing that at least 40 individuals died while waiting for doctor appointments at the Phoenix hospital. Top administrators knew about it and did nothing to correct it. Senior officials at the facility were also left in their positions in spite of congressional knowledge and the agency’s Inspector General investigation.

Adding to the outrage is one recent report based on a review of public records from the VA facility in Phoenix that show its staff earned relatively high salaries bonuses. While not yet reported or corroborated by other outlets, the article details how the hospital apparently spent hundreds of thousands on interior and exterior aesthetics around the facility, and high executive physicians make in the mid-$350,000s with some nursing staff making in the mid-$140,000s.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shineski has vowed to take action on this problem and will not resign. In the meantime, veterans affected by this issue and their families will likely consider legal action at some point. Such action would appropriately come under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which would grant these victims a private right of action against the federal government – specifically the VA – for their actions that has led to more permanent health problems and even death for veterans. In an era where long-term care facilities and nursing homes have committed egregious negligence and abuse against their patients, it is furthermore disheartening that a facility dedicated to treating veterans has similarly committed such wrongful omissions.

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