VA scandal: Stop the insanity and fix the broken system

It's pathetic that as the nation prepares to take the day off Monday to observe Memorial Day and honor the men and women who died while in military service, our healthcare system has failed our living veterans.

Problems within the Veterans Affairs healthcare system aren't new. They date back years. But in the past year alone FierceHealthcare has published too many stories about problems within individual VA facilities across the country.

In November, a CNN investigation found that six veterans waited months for routine gastrointestinal procedures at William Jennings Bryan Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, and died of cancer before clinicians could detect it.

In December, the General Accounting Office released a report that patients at unnamed VA hospitals don't have adequate protection from doctors with a history of subpar treatment.

And two months ago, a former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center claimed that the facility intentionally deleted backlogged exam requests, which automatically erased any record that the requests were ever made.

But the allegations last month that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and were part of a "secret waiting list" to hide the fact that about 1,500 ailing veterans waited months to see a doctor, opened a Pandora's box of accusations that suggest this wasn't an isolated incident.

Indeed, it is clearly a systemic problem. VA policy requires system hospitals to provide care within 14 to 30 days of a patient's request. Since the allegations surfaced, we've heard complaints of falsified records and cover ups, and accusations that officials encouraged the use of the secret waitlist to collect bonuses for on-time treatment. The scandal now involves as many as 26 facilities across the country.

This week President Barack Obama finally called for a nationwide investigation into the allegations but stopped short of asking for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. However, he said that if the allegations proved true, he would hold individuals accountable for the misconduct.  

So far, Obama said, the investigation hasn't found a direct link between the deaths of any of the veterans on the alleged waitlist to treatment delays. Preliminary reports indicate wait times involved patients with chronic conditions, not emergency services.

Good to know that someone in acute distress wasn't told to wait three months for a test that could lead to a diagnosis and treatment. The delays were just for those patients who have chronic illnesses.

What? That makes it better?

The fact is that patients were virtually ignored and forgotten while they waited on a list for an appointment to see a doctor or get a test. It's outrageous that those overseeing these facilities could allow these delays in treatment. And it's a disgrace if the allegations turn out to be true that some officials benefited financially by covering up the delays in order to receive their on-time bonuses.

The system clearly is flawed. The government needs to get to the root of this problem, fix it quickly and provide care to all veterans in need. Yesterday Shinseki posted a message to veterans stating the administration is redoubling its efforts to regain their trust. I hope so. Our veterans deserve high-quality, timely access to healthcare--and they deserve our respect year-round ... not just during national holidays.--Ilene (@FierceHealth)

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