Sen. Tom Coburn: 1,000 VA patients may have died as a result of misconduct in last decade

As many as 1,000 veterans may have died in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals over the last 10 years as a result of misconduct, according to a new report from the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

In the report, Coburn, an M.D., called the recent scandal over secret waitlists used to conceal treatment delays for veterans "the tip of the iceberg." The report describes numerous other incidents of malfeasance within the VA system, including:

  • A neurologist in Kansas whom the VA continued to pay for nearly two years amid multiple accusations of performing inappropriate pelvic and breast examinations on women. He was fired last May and pleaded no contest to multiple counts of sexual misconduct, according to the report.

  • Cost overruns of more than $1 billion and delays ranging from 14 months to six years at four major construction projects.

  • A VA employee in Nashville who charged over $100,000 in unauthorized travel expenses and, according to an Office of Inspector General investigation, "traveled whenever and wherever he wanted, billing VA for his expenses."

  • A whistleblower who was suspended without pay, and later relocated to another clinic at a lower salary, after disclosing scheduling abuses at a Fort Collins, Colorado, medical center.

  • $845 million in medical malpractice payouts since 2001.

"This report shows the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined," Coburn said. "The scope of the VA's incompetence--and Congress's indifferent oversight--is breathtaking and disturbing."

Meanwhile, the Phoenix VA scandal deepened when scheduling clerk Pauline DeWenter told the Arizona Republic that she was ordered to keep the secret list and that Phoenix officials attempted to alter records for veterans who died awaiting care.

Members of the House and Senate began talks this week for legislation proposed in response to the scandal, which would allow veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA if they were not able to get timely care, according to the Miami Herald. "The simple truth of the matter is that the VA needs more doctors, more nurses, more mental health providers, and, in certain parts of the country, more space for a growing patient population," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

To learn more:
- read Coburn's report
- read the Arizona Republic article
- read the Miami Herald article
- here's the OIG report (.pdf)