VA scandal: Continued care access problems at Oklahoma facility reflect national concerns

With the scandal over care delays and gaps in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) soon to enter its second year, veterans still suffer as a result of poor care and misdiagnoses despite numerous attempts to fix the agency's problems, according to USA Today.

For example, the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center will soon get its sixth director in three years. The Center has been one of the worst-performing facilities in the VA system the entire time, with some of the highest rates of adverse events and in-hospital complications in the nation as well as some of the greatest registered nurse turnover rates, the article noted.

One of Congress' much-touted fixes for the VA's problems was the Choice Act, which would allow veterans to access private-sector care if it could meet their needs faster than the VA. However, the Oklahoma City VA has required Vietnam veteran George Washington Purifoy to travel to Shreveport, Louisiana, to treat issues arising from radiation therapy complications, even though there is a non-VA hospital across the street. Despite increased hiring within the agency, the VA told Purifoy no VA surgeon in the state can treat him.

The VA also says it has prioritized preventing retaliation against whistleblowers, but a VA doctor who tried to report Purifoy's problem and others like it subsequently became the subject of an Oklahoma VA investigation, according to the article.

"I don't know if there are others--there probably are, but it just seems like there's a lot of miscommunication among the departments, a lot of lost time where patients come for appointments and the doctors they're supposed to see are not there, a lot of people managing things but missing the big picture," Marci Levine, M.D., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and professor at New York University's College of Dentistry, told the publication. "And then the patients are obviously suffering at the end."

The VA told USA Today it ordered reviews of five cases at the Oklahoma VA, including Purifoy's, and that such issues were the exception, not the rule, while pledging to continue making corrections when improper care was uncovered.

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