Delays at VA hospital lead to patient deaths

Delayed care and waits have led to veteran deaths, specifically at Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., a trend the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has done little to address, a CNN investigation found.

The report claims at least six veterans waited months for routine gastrointestinal procedures, such as colonoscopies or endoscopies, and died of cancer before clinicians could detect it. 

"[Veterans] paid the ultimate price," Stephen Lloyd, M.D., a private physician specializing in colonoscopies in Columbia, told CNN. "People that had appointments had their appointments canceled and rescheduled much later. ...In some cases, that made an impact where they went into a later stage [of illness] and therefore lost the battle to live."

An investigation into government documents showed 52 of the 280 gastrointestinal cancer patients were "associated with a delay in diagnosis and treatment." A VA internal report states that in July 2011, a hospital physician sent a warning to administrators that there was a patient backlog of 2,500, a number that jumped to 3,800 patients by December, according to another email from a hospital doctor, CNN said.

When the hospital received a $1 million appropriation from the government, only one-third of it went to address care for veterans on the waitlist.

The VA released a statement to CNN stating the "consult delay at Dorn VAMC has been resolved," but both patients and staff said there are still problems with veterans receiving timely care and diagnosis.

This isn't the first time a VA hospital has put veterans at risk. In 2010, more than 1,800 people were exposed to Hepatitis B and C viruses, along with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at John Cochran Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis. In 2009, three veterans tested positive for HIV after being exposed to contaminated medical equipment in facilities in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the CNN article
- here's the VA internal report