Report: 100 Veteran Deaths Linked to 'Delay in Treatment' at VA Hospitals

Sunday, 18 May 2014 12:33 PM

By Greg Richter

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As the Department of Veterans Affairs faces an increasing amount of scrutiny over allegations of "secret" waiting lists that left veterans at VA hospitals untreated for months, a new report shows that the VA settled several claims that appear related to treatment delays.

The Dayton Daily News, in a story published Sunday, says its investigation of a database of paid claims shows that since 2001 the words "delay in treatment" were used 167 times. The VA paid out $36.4 million to settle the claims, the Daily News reported.

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In one case the newspaper found the Dayton VA paid out $140,000 in 2009 on a 2006 claim described as "Failure/Delay in Admission to Hospital or Institution; Medication Administered via Wrong Route; Failure to Order Appropriate Test."

On Sunday, the deputy director of the VFW Nation Veterans Service told Fox News that there needs to be “swift accountability” regarding reports of treatment delays at veterans’ hospitals across the country.

“The families of these veterans need justice and they need it quickly,” Ryan Gallucci said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Also, the White House chief of staff said that President Barack Obama is "madder than hell" about the reports of treatment delays at veterans' hospitals around the nation.

Denis McDonough told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Obama is demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and others in the administration "continue to fix these things until they're functioning the way that our veterans believe they should."

Dayton VA spokesman Ted Froats told the paper he is unaware of any deaths at the Dayton VA Medical Center related to delayed care. But the paper reported that one pending case was filed by a man who says his wife's 2012 death was caused by failure of the VA to diagnose her cervical cancer.

More than 100 payments a year are made on claims that veterans died as a result of VA medical care, the Daily News and WSB-TV in Atlanta reported.

So far, the VA has admitted that 23 veterans have died waiting for care, but the Daily News said that number could be closer to 1,100 from 2001 through 2013, according to records it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

A statement from the Dayton VA read: "Unlike many private hospitals, in the rare instance where a situation has interfered in a patient's medical care, we sit down with the veteran to discuss what happened and notify the veteran of his or her right to file a tort claim."

The secret waiting lists first came to light when a whistleblower reported that staff at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital were keeping names on a paper list, then transferring them into a computer once the veterans could be seen within 14 days. The VA's goal is to see veterans within 14 days of their initial contact to make an appointment, but veterans and their families in Phoenix report waiting weeks and months to see a doctor.

Some have died while waiting, though in some cases it is unclear whether their deaths were directly related to not seeing a doctor within the 14-day period.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office review released in December 2012 showed that the Dayton VA hospital and others in Montana, California and Washington, D.C., found scheduling errors in every hospital, the Daily News reported.

"During our site visits, staff at some clinics told us they change medical appointment desired dates to show clinic wait times within VA's performance goals," the review said.

Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, who is both a veteran and a doctor, told the paper that the VA has a different mindset than private hospitals. Private hospitals can do 10 colonoscopies in the time a VA hospital does three, he said.

Retired Air Force Reserve Colonel Shirley Ribak, told the paper that top administrators set up well-intended goals, then offer incentives to meet those goals that encourage gaming of the system.

The VA payouts were not out of line with private hospitals, the newspaper noted, but still came at a time when performance bonuses, pay raises and transfers for employees were taking place. Some of those benefits were given to people who were in charge when the failures occurred.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki testified last week he is "mad as hell" over the incident, but calls for his resignation have continued.

The American Legion's Dan Dellinger told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that President Barack Obama needs to address the issue personally.

"One death is tragic, but when you hide it, that's unforgiveable."

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