Report: VA has hired healthcare workers with revoked licenses since 2002, against federal law

Veterans affairs sign
The VA issued guidelines in 2002 that allowed it to illegally hire clinicians who lost a medical license, according to a USA Today report. (JeffOnWire / CC BY 2.0)

An internal VA policy has allowed its health system to hire healthcare workers with revoked medical licenses for more than a decade, an investigation by USA Today found. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued guidelines in 2002 that gave discretion to local hospitals to hire clinical staff who had lost a medical license, as long as they still had one in another state and following "prior consideration" of facts in the case, according to the article. The policy violates federal law, which since 1999 has banned the VA from hiring clinicians who lost a license in any state.

Under this policy, the VA hired neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, who was hit with more than a dozen malpractice suits following several botched surgeries. In some cases, patients were left paralyzed or died as a result of the procedures. 

Schneider lost his medical license in Wisconsin, but maintained one in Montana, USA Today found. Because of that, he was hired at the Iowa City, Iowa VA hospital. VA spokesman Curt Cashour said "incorrect guidance" led to Schneider's hire. The Iowa City hospital moved to fire Schneider on Nov. 29, and he instead resigned. 

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VA Secretary David Shulkin, told the newspaper that he had called for the guidelines to be rewritten and has begun a nationwide review that would weed out other VA clinicians who lost their licenses but are still practicing in the system. Shulkin said the VA has more than 66,000 regulations, and he seeks to reduce them by 80%. Clarifying policies across the VA can prevent issues like Schneider's hire, he told the publication. 

"It’s very clear to me that our job is to have the best quality doctors that we can provide to take care of veterans, and that's going to be our policy," Shulkin said. 

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that five hospitals in the VA system failed to report potentially dangerous doctors to a national database that would have prevented them practicing elsewhere. 

RELATED: Another VA scandal revealed—years of hidden medical mistakes, staff misconduct

In addition to the hiring concerns, the VA has been paying doctors significant sums in administrative leave, USA Today found earlier this month. In one case, a neurosurgeon barred from performing surgeries at a Mississippi VA hospital was still collecting his $339,179 salary. 

The VA health system has been under intense scrutiny since 2014, when a nationwide scandal erupted after it was revealed that veterans faced long wait times for care at VA hospitals.