By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, June 24, U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery issued a statement in response to a shocking reports of further misconduct at the scandal ridden Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS).
A new report claims that more than 1,200 pulmonary patients’ records were manipulated by a Montgomery VA physician to show tests that never occurred, according to a report released by the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Monday.
According to a report by the Associated Press (AP), the VA Office of Medical Inspector (OMI) downplayed the blatant misconduct, saying patient health was not proven to be “endangered.” That pulmonologist is still employed by CAVHCS according to the AP.
Congresswoman Martha Roby said, “How can anyone think that falsifying more than 1,200 pulmonary records does not endanger patient health. What good is a ‘watchdog’ if they are just going to downplay such obviously egregious behavior?”
Representative Roby said, “My office continues to look into numerous specific issues raised by constituents, and what we are learning is alarming. The Special Counsel’s report is entirely consistent with what we have been hearing in terms of both phony medical practices and the VA’s own inspectors’ apparent inability to act aggressively on complaints.” “I am pleased that the Office of Special Counsel seems to be doing what the VA and its inspectors have thus far failed to accomplish: provide a simple, straightforward, and commonsense assessment of some of the serious problems at the VA. Too often, information from the VA has been clouded in confusing doublespeak. This I know from personal experience.”
On Monday, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner sent a letter to President Obama in which she chided the VA’s OMI for the handling of whistleblower complaints that turned out to be true, writing that “Too frequently, the VA has failed to use information from whistleblowers to identify and address systemic concerns that impact patient care.” In the letter, Lerner cited the previously-unrevealed instance in which a Montgomery-based VA pulmonologist “copied prior provider notes to represent current readings in over 1,200 patient records.”
Lerner wrote, “Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples. Rather these are cases of a troubling pattern of deficient patient care at VA facilities nationwide, and the continued resistance by the VA, and OMI [Office of Medical Inspector] in most cases, to recognize and address the impact on the health and safety of veterans.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is an independent Federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that handles whistleblower issues.
Also on Tuesday, June 24th U.S. Senator and doctor Tom Coburn, M.D. (R) from Oklahoma released his new oversight report “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA.” According to information in the report inappropriate conduct and incompetence within the VA may have contributed to the deaths of up to 1000 of our Veterans since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Coburn said, “This report shows the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined. The scope of the VA’s incompetence – and Congress’ indifferent oversight – is breathtaking and disturbing. This investigation found the problems at the VA are far deeper than just scheduling. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of the VA’s misconduct and the VA has paid out nearly $1 billion to veterans and their families for its medical malpractice. As is typical with any bureaucracy, the excuse for not being able to meet goals is a lack of resources. But this is not the case at the VA where spending has increased rapidly in recent years.”
Sen. Coburn said, “The Administration and Congress have failed to ensure our nation is living up to the promises we have made to our veterans. As a physician who has personally cared for hundreds of Oklahoma veterans, this is intolerable. As a Senator, I’m determined to address the structural challenges of the Department of Veterans Affairs so we can end this national disgrace and improve quality and access to health care for our veterans. But make no mistake. Whatever bill Congress passes cannot ignore the findings of this report. While it is good that Congress feels a sense of urgency we are at this point because Congress has ignored or glossed over too many similar warnings in the past. Our sense of urgency should come from the scope of the problem, not our proximity to an election.”
According to Coburn’s report, “The cover up of waiting lists for doctor’s appointments at the VA is just the tip of the iceberg, reflecting a perverse culture within the department where veterans are not always the priority and data and employees are manipulated to maintain an appearance that all is well.”
Bad employees received rewards of bonuses and paid leave while whistleblowers, health care providers, and even veterans and their families are subjected to bullying, sexual harassment, abuse, and neglect.
According to the report, female patients received unnecessary pelvic and breast exams from a sex offender, a noose was left on the desk of a minority employee by a co-worker, and a nurse who murdered a veteran harassed the family of the deceased to get them to admit guilt for the death.
The report claims that care at more centers is getting worse and some VA health care providers have lost their medical licenses, and the VA is hiding this information from patients. Delays exist for more than just doctors’ appointments—disability claims, construction, urgent care, and registries are also slow or behind schedule.
In 2009, the VA expanded eligibility to those who already had insurance without any service related injuries, making the delays even longer, while the VA has resisted calls to let vets off the waiting lists by freeing them go to doctors outside of its system. According to Coburn’s report the VA sat on hundreds of millions of dollars intended for health care that went unspent year to year. VA doctors see far fewer patients than private doctors and some even leave work early.
According to the Coburn report, criminal activity at the VA is pervasive, including drug dealing, theft, and even murder. A VA police chief even conspired to kidnap, rape and murder women and children.
Meanwhile VA doctors and staff are overpaid and underworked, some are paid not to work and more and more employees are not even showing up for work. The report claims that it has identified $20 billion in waste and mismanagement that could have been better spent providing health care to veterans.
Additionally the Federal government has paid out $845 million for VA medical malpractice since 2001. Most VA construction projects are over budget and behind schedule, inflating costs by billions of dollars.
Rep. Roby has recently dispatched top staff members to Montgomery to field information from whistleblowers about the continued reports of systemic problems at CAVHCS.
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.