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Harvard Law Prof: Administration Chose Not to Act on VA Scandal

By Courtney Coren   |   Wednesday, 21 May 2014 05:37 PM

The Veterans Affairs scandal is the most disturbing scandal this year because the Obama administration seemed to know about it but didn't do anything, says I. Glenn Cohen, leading expert in bioethics and law at Harvard University Law School.

"This year, it is the most disturbing scandal, and one of the things that's disturbing, of course, is that there were at least two instances where the administration was tipped off and didn't seem to act," Cohen told J.D. Hayworth and Morgan Thompson on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV.

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Cohen explained that in 2012, the the head of healthcare at the Government Accountability Office, Debra Draper, found that four VA hospitals were having scheduling problems, and Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Barack Obama in May 2013 about problems that were surfacing in the VA, after Democratic Rep. David Scott said that he was not getting information from the VA that he was requesting.

The Washington Times also reported that the Bush administration told the Obama administration about problems in the VA as part of the transition before former President George W. Bush left office.

According to allegations, secret wait lists were kept at several VA hospitals throughout the country to make it look like patients were not waiting more than the required 14-day period, while in some cases they were actually waiting for months. At the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, 40 patients allegedly died while waiting to see a doctor.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday, saying that he was "mad as hell" about the allegations.

President Barack Obama gave a speech at the White House Wednesday promising to "fix" the problems at the VA, saying "if the allegations prove to be true, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it."

"These wait times have been unacceptable, the cover up has been unacceptable, and today is the first time the president has really said anything on the subject, and certain Shinseki's 'mad as hell' comment seemed quite tepid a couple days ago," Cohen said.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said in response to Obama's speech that he is "glad" he is speaking out about it, but that his vow to "fix" the VA is "wholly insufficient."

Cohen said that he expects those affected by the problems at the VA will file class action lawsuits against the federal government, but that "the tricky thing will be to show [that the patients] . . . died because they were on a wait list, [and] had they had access to the service they either would've survived or they would've had a greater chance of surviving."

Several have called for Shinseki to resign, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Cohen said that "at least General Shinseki needs to take responsibility, whether it's his fault or not."

"The buck stops with the cabinet, and the buck stops, ultimately, with the president," he added.

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