Coburn Report: More Than 1,000 Vets May Have Died From VA Neglect

Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 05:49 PM

By Cathy Burke and Greg Richter

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More than 1,000 veterans may have died over the last 10 years because of malpractice or lack of care from Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, a report released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Coburn charges.

"Too many men and women who bravely fought for our freedom are losing their lives, not at the hands of terrorists or enemy combatants, but from friendly fire in the form of medical malpractice and neglect by the Department of Veterans Affairs," the Oklahoma Republican wrote in a letter attached to the report.

And, he said, the scandal involving alleged delay in care and secret waiting lists is "just the tip of the iceberg."

The VA has admitted that 23 patients have died because of delayed care in recent years. 

But the report from Coburn — who is a doctor — titled "Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA," shows more deaths have been linked to issues affecting VA hospitals and clinics throughout the country.

"Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance," Coburn said in his introduction to the report.

"Poor management is costing the department billions of dollars more and compromising veterans' access to medical care."

Coburn spoke about the report in an interview with Fox News Tuesday.

"I don't know that we'll do anything, because what you're hearing is platitudes," Coburn said on "Your World with Neil Cavuto." Coburn had just slipped out of a meeting discussing the ongoing VA scandal.

On just four hospitals, the VA is $1.3 billion over budget on construction costs, Coburn told Fox News.

"We can't seem to do anything in an efficient, effective manner — with few exceptions — at a lot of the VA organizations in this country, and it's because of poor management, not money," he said.

Coburn told Fox News he wants to see changes, including giving managers the ability to fire underperforming federal employees. He also wants to hold managers accountable for performance and outcome.

But, he added, there must be true transparency and accountability.

"If they'll cheat on the data associated with appointments, they'll cheat on quality data and outcome data," he said.

Coburn said he won't be voting for any conference report that doesn't fix the real problem and lets Congress off the hook by merely saying it did something.

Coburn, a physician and cancer survivor, is retiring at the end of the year. His name has been brought up as a possible VA secretary, but he said no one should take the job unless Congress gives him or her the ability to manage it.

"And I don't see that happening yet," he said.

He did admit he would consider the job should such authority be granted to the secretary, but added, "I probably wouldn't get through the Senate."

The federal government has paid out $845 million for VA medical malpractice since 2001, Stars and Stripes reports.

Some of the findings in the report included allegations that criminal activity at the department is "all too common," including cases of drug dealing, theft and even murder, according to the newspaper.

Also, some VA health care providers have lost their medical licenses, and the VA is allegedly hiding that information from their patients, the newspaper reported.

Other allegations include that many VA doctors and staff are overpaid and underworked, some employees are not showing up for work, and some are even paid not to work; and that bad workers are allegedly rewarded with bonuses and paid leave, while employees who try to bring attention to problems or errors are punished, bullied, put on “bad boy” lists, or transferred to other locations, Stars and Stripes reported.

Coburn says Congress has to take some of the blame.

"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," he wrote in the introduction to the report.

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