It was reported last week by CNN that at least 40 veterans have died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. They revealed the secret list that patients were shuttled to when they didn’t have time nor room to serve them They did this to hide the fact that thousands of veterans were waiting months to get an appointment. The whistleblower was a previous VA physician, now retired. I have seen multiple reporting’s of botched treatments, long waits, dirty conditions, and overcrowding, but this is the most disturbing and striking so far.
Two years ago the information about misapplied radiation treatments in the VA in Pennsylvania began to surface. But, it was not reported in the news media for several months. Then another story of a radiologist in Jackson, MS accused of not reading X-ray’s and CT images or reading them too fast in order to improve his productivity. He was being paid by the number of procedures he interpreted. Following soon after came the report of overcrowding and unclean conditions at the VA facility in Washington, DC. In Pittsburgh, six patients died and 20 more became ill after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease due to contaminated water. The hospital and staff knew about it, but the veterans and families were never told.
Now we are hearing about Phoenix and that the officials at the hospital not only tolerated this scheme, but openly defended it. The case of the Navy veteran, Thomas Breen, brings it all home as the VA hospital in Phoenix called one week after he died with his appointment time. The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 – 30 days. But the system is overwhelmed with the numbers requiring treatment and in order to meet the regulatory demands, elaborate schemes were used for reporting to Washington.
The Phoenix VA’s “off the books” waiting list has captured the attention of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington. The chairman is investigating delays in care that are reported across the country. At this time when veteran’s suicides are at an all time high, it is unthinkable that real human medical professionals could exhibit this behavior. The system is broken. The number of claims pending for disability compensation from the VA is also at astronomical heights. The normal processing time is more than 125 days. We owe these men and women our freedom! We should be holding up our end of the bargain, both the legal one we promised, but also the moral promise that we would be there for them.