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Horrific Wait Times for Veterans has Led to at Least 40 Deaths

Horrific Wait Times for Veterans has Led to at Least 40 Deaths

As America heads into its annual Memorial Day remembrances of the men and women who have lost their lives in service of our nation, the Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a controversy about its care of those who have served.

Allegations have surfaced that the VA has delayed treatment for thousands of veterans in violation of long standing scheduling rules. These delays are being blamed for complications for untreated conditions and at least 40 deaths.

The VA system has more than 1,700 hospitals and clinics that handle more than 80 million outpatient visits every year. The demand for services has increased dramatically after two wars and more than a decade of soldiers returning home in need of services, adding to the population of veterans from as far back as WWII. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were an estimated 21 million veterans still living in 2012.

The current controversy began after two whistleblowers in a Phoenix facility claimed that officials fabricated the data regarding wait times for scheduling appointments. VA rules require that appointments are to be scheduled within 14 to 30 days. If it would take longer than 90 days to schedule an appointment, the names were to be entered into an electronic waiting list to ensure that they would be prioritized when appointments became available. In Phoenix, officials kept a secret hard copy waiting list that showed 1,400-1,600 veterans were waiting months for treatment, including those which chronic conditions. They also doctored the electronic waiting list to show they were tending patients in a timely manner.

According to the allegations, at least 40 veterans died as a result of this practice.

Since the allegations have come to light, 26 facilities in 18 states are under investigation. However, records show that the VA has had scheduling issues throughout the system dating back as far as 2000. As recently as April of this year, the Government Accountability Office continued its ongoing reporting about the severe delays in VA healthcare. It pointed out to wait times of almost 6 months for follow ups and inconsistent implementation of VHA’s scheduling policy.

The current scheduling policies were established under Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has been at the head of the VA since President Obama’s first term. Shinseki ‘s tenure has been mired in controversy, including his handling of a longstanding backlog of disability claims. After an uproar over claims that were not being processed for more than four months or more, Shinseki vowed to eliminate the backlog by 2015. He estimates they are less than halfway there.

While VA advocacy groups and politicians are looking for the resignation of Shinseki, questions remain as to why the scheduling issues exist in the first place.

Some pundits are claiming that the Republican-controlled house has cut funding for veteran services. This is untrue. Under the Obama administration, funding for veterans has increased from $47.8 billion in 2009 to $63.4 billion as of this year. However, the amount approved by Congress is about $2 billion dollars less per year than the president had originally requested. It is unknown if the higher amount would have made a difference.

Most likely, the problems boil down to simple logistics.

Shinseki has increased the amount of services available to veterans, resulting in more veterans accessing care. Several VA facilities serve more than 10,000 veterans in a single geographic location. Additional funding could increase the number of physicians and specialists available, but training requirements established by the VHA for them are seen as an additional obstacle for increasing the numbers. Not to mention, doctor shortages are a nationwide problem that affects the entire healthcare system – not just veterans.

Deceptive scheduling practices aside, there are only so many patients that can be seen in a day.

As for the original Phoenix case that has brought the issue to the forefront, the Department of Justice is currently investigating. The whistleblowers came forward after learning that Phoenix officials were planning to destroy the hidden records. They were able to preserve the records and are currently being reviewed by investigators. President Obama held a press conference on Wednesday saying the White House has launched its own investigation and any misconduct would be punished.

However, the president insisted he wanted a full investigation before deciding if Shinseki should resign, believing he cares deeply about our veterans. His loyalty, however, seems to remain with our veterans. “My attitude is, for folks who have been fighting on the battlefield, they should not have to fight a bureaucracy at home to get the care that they’ve earned.”

You can sign this petition if you agree with the president that America’s veterans deserve better access to medical care.

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9:42AM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

How little we care if it does not affect us.

12:57PM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

SARAH PAY ATTENTION……. CONGRESS controls the VA and its budget. Ciongress has been ignoring the problem. Obamahas trie 3 times to bring attention it to it. Congress wnats low low low taxes. The cant pay for what the VA needs with low taxes.

3:58AM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

This is appalling! Obama was informed that there were problems with the VA when he took office in 2008. He chose to do nothing now it's even worse! Now our brave warriors are dying.

6:28PM PDT on Jun 1, 2014


9:25AM PDT on May 30, 2014

Republicans refused to accept a bill by Bernie Sanders to fund the VA. Republicans said that we are 17 trillion in debt, and we can't afford to spend money to help our veterans. While, hmm, republicans created our 17 trillion dollar debt, when their ignorant moron, Bush led us into war with Iraq that was based on lies. Republicans are good at spending money we don't have in Iraq on a war that was based on lies, cutting taxes for the rich, and creating our massive 17 trillion dollar debt. But now they won't spend a dime to help our poor veterans. And now the republicans are scapegoating, and swift boating Shinseki, when they refused to accept funding for our VA. This shows what a bunch of hypocritical liars republicans are. Instead of firing Shinsecki, the republicans should lose their jobs for allowing their ignorant moron George Bush to lead us into the Iraq war that was based on lies, and then refusing to accept funding for the VA to take care of our troops.

5:13AM PDT on May 28, 2014

This is what happens when republicans get power, and create wars that were based on lies, like Iraq. The VA is simply overwhelmed, and cannot handle the 30,000 wounded warriors with traumatic brain injury, and amputated limbs. The deaths of 130,000 Iraqi's, along with 4,400 American soldiers, is directly the result of the policies of that ignorant republican moron Bush, who squandered a surplus, and left Obama with a 10.7 trillion dollar debt, after 8 years of his horrible failed presidency.

1:56AM PDT on May 28, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

7:02PM PDT on May 26, 2014

Soldiers put their lives on the line so that we may enjoy our freedoms. At the very least, they deserve quality care in a reasonable amount of time!

4:53PM PDT on May 26, 2014

Shouldn't these be considered wrongful deaths and be actionable?

11:37AM PDT on May 26, 2014

Shinseki needs to be fired immediately. He has five years worth of reports detailing just this situation and he's done absolutely nothing about it. Mr Obama was briefed when taking over from George Bush about the problems plaguing the VA. Mr Obama was happy to use the VA to win the election (twice) but has failed to do anything about it. And Mr Obama, saying the first you heard about it was when these 40 deaths were reported in the media is a flat out lie, something you seem to be quite good at doing these days. Be a leader, take REAL responsibility and DO SOMETHING about this horrifying situation.

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