Latest VA Revelations Elicit Angry Responses from Lawmakers

Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 10:58 AM

By Elliot Jager

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A six-page letter to President Barack Obama about the scandal-plagued Veteran Administration medical system from Carolyn Lerner, of the Office of Special Counsel, has substantiated charges made by whistleblowers and laid bare the agency's failure to take the complaints seriously.

The letter dated June 23rd reignited anger and frustration among lawmakers and newly appointed VA officials,  Politico reported.

Lerner summarized how Veterans Affairs managers ignored disclosures from whistleblowers at various facilities. They were informed, for instance, that unsanitary medical equipment was being used; unlawful narcotics were being prescribed, and that lack of cleanliness had contributed to elevated levels of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease. In another example, they were given accounts of elderly patients left to manage on their own with bathing, eating, and drinking.

The agency consistently denied or downplayed the seriousness of the whistleblowers' charges.

"This approach has prevented the VA from acknowledging the severity of systemic problems and from taking the necessary steps to provide quality care to veterans," Lerner wrote. "As a result, veterans' health and safety has been unnecessarily put at risk."

Lerner described how at the VA Medical Center-Brockton, "A veteran with a 100 percent service-connected psychiatric condition was a resident of the facility from 2005 to 2013. In that time, he had only one psychiatric note written in his medical chart, in 2012, when he was first examined by the whistleblower, more than seven years after he was admitted."

"One note in eight years?" asked Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, according to the Associated Press.

"That is unacceptable sir," responded Dr. Thomas Lynch, an assistant deputy secretary for the VA.

Democratic Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota said, "We have a veteran we warehouse for eight years. That's a national tragedy."

Miller called on the president to put out the word that VA employee need to address problems rather than minimize them.

"It's impossible to solve problems by whitewashing them or denying they exist," Miller said.

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, angrily reacted to the latest revelation. "Whistleblowers are critical to our efforts to guard against waste and misconduct in government – and in this case, against the severe compromise of patient care," she said.

"I'm outraged. Not only by what these whistleblowers found, but by indications that those findings were ignored or minimized by VA management, perpetuating systemic problems while veterans suffered," Politico reported.

Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said he was "deeply disappointed" both that Lerner's letter corroborated the whistleblowers original criticisms and that within the VA they were not taken seriously, according to Politico.


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