Some Veterans Hospitals Engage in Cover-ups to Hide Delays Leading to Patient Deaths

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has, for more than a decade, failed to halt delays in patient care at VA hospitals, resulting in preventable fatalities, a CNN investigation found.


The news network also learned that numerous VA hospitals actively engage in cover-ups of their extensive patient wait times, including the falsifying of records. Additionally, the administrators of these hospitals are regularly rewarded with bonuses, rather than facing consequences for patient neglect.


The problems were particularly bad at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, where veterans waited months for gastrointestinal procedures, such as colonoscopies.


As a result, patients with cancer learned about their conditions after it was too late to treat them. At least six deaths at Dorn were linked to the delays. But the number may be even higher, possibly more than 20, according to sources who spoke with CNN.


“People that had appointments had their appointments canceled and rescheduled much later....In some cases, that made an impact where they went into a later stage (of illness) and therefore lost the battle to live,” Dr. Stephen Lloyd, a private physician specializing in colonoscopies in Columbia, told the news network.


Fifty-two gastrointestinal cancer patients out of 280 cases reviewed by medical investigators at Dorn were “associated with a delay in diagnosis and treatment,” CNN reported.


Two months ago, the VA’s inspector general found that 700 delays for appointments or care at Dorn were labeled “critical.”


Most startling, perhaps, is that the problems at Dorn had been identified by the VA two years ago and Congress appropriated $1 million, at the VA’s request, to fix them. Yet, according to documents reviewed by CNN, only a third of those funds were used for their intended purpose. Meanwhile, the waiting list continued to grow, reaching 3,800 as of December 2011.


Additional VA hospitals across the country have also been under review due to suspected delays in diagnoses or treatment, according to the documents and to interviews that CNN has conducted. Among those is the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, where three veterans on a waiting list of 4,500 have died due to delayed care.


The administrators at the facilities where veterans are dying from neglect continually are rewarded with bonuses, rather than receiving demotions, according to congressional investigators interviewed by CNN.


Debra Draper of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told CNN they discovered that VA hospitals have engaged in cover-ups of wait times, including falsifying numbers, altering appointment dates and refusal to provide accurate information—to Congress and the media—about patient care delays.


Draper said that the GAO and the Office of the VA Inspector General have been reporting these problems to Congress for more than a decade.


In a statement made to CNN, the VA said it provides veterans with “the best quality, safe and effective health care.” It also said that “the delay at Dorn VAMC has been resolved.” But the medical staff and patients at Dorn told CNN that is not true.

- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Hospital Delays are Killing America's War Veterans (by Scott Bronstein, Nelli Black and Drew Griffin, CNN)

Healthcare Inspection: Gastroenterology Consult Delays - William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center (Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General) (pdf)

Allegations of Mismanagement of the GI Clinic, Dorn VAMC Columbia, SC (Department of Veterans Affairs) (pdf)

Is VA Causing Veterans to Overdose on Opiates? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Veterans May Have Been Exposed to AIDS at St. Louis VA Hospital During Dental Treatment (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

5 VA Hospitals Banned from Performing Most Surgeries (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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