VA scandal: Heads finally roll as agency proposes removal of three execs at Phoenix VA Health System

Veterans affairs sign

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has finally proposed disciplinary action against three executives nearly two years after the spark that ignited the initial scandal in Phoenix, when it came to light that more than 40 patients died while enduring long waits to receive care at the city's VA hospital. 

This week, the VA recommended that the agency remove three Phoenix VA Healthcare System executives over the scandal--Associate Director Lance Robinson; Darren Deering, M.D., the hospital's chief of staff; and Brad Curry, chief of health administration services.

"Frankly, I am disappointed that it took as long as it did for proposed actions to be made but I am satisfied that we carefully reviewed a massive amount of evidence to ensure the accountability actions are supported," said Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson in a statement. "These cases have served as a distraction to the progress being made to improve the care we provide in Phoenix and across the nation."

Meanwhile, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a long-awaited report this week about some Texas VA hospitals falsifying records about the wait-times former military personnel were forced to endure in order to receive care, similar to the "secret" waitlists the Phoenix VA kept while maintaining an official list with much shorter times.

An internal investigation by the VA found that in multiple care facilities in Texas, schedulers engaged in a systematic campaign to falsify data about when patients tried to see a physician or obtain another type of care, making it impossible for regulators to track delays in healthcare delivery.

"Review of patient appointment data for facilities in San Antonio, Kerrville, and Austin revealed that the improper scheduling was systemic, and was not limited to a particular clinic or supervisor," said the report. Employees explained to investigators that their supervisors ordered them to "zero out" wait times by manipulating data about appointment dates and times, making the hospitals appear to work far more efficiently than they do.

In fact, the scandal extends to 51 of the 73 U.S. VA hospitals and healthcare facilities, said the OIG. However, the bulk of the investigation's records on the matter still remain sealed. 

President Barack Obama and members of Congress have attempted to close the gap in veterans' healthcare by passing a $16 billion reform bill, but problems persist and changes are only coming slowly, if at all. Audits of VA hospitals found that even when money is available, hospitals failed to translate some $1.9 billion into actual care. 

However, according to reports, even as the system became mired in scandal, VA executives awarded themselves $142 million in bonuses.

To learn more:
- read the VA statement