More than 1,000 veterans may have died over the past decade as a result of “inappropriate conduct and incompetence” within the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a disturbing report released by Sen. Tom Coburn.
Coburn (R-OK), who is also an obstetrician and one of three medical doctors currently serving in the U.S. Senate, created the report, “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA,” after a year-long investigation of VA hospitals nationwide.
Among the key findings in the report:
- A “perverse” culture exists within the VA where “veterans are not always the priority and data and employees are manipulated to maintain an appearance that all is well.”
- Substandard employees are provided with bonuses and paid leave, but whistleblowers, health care providers, veterans and their families are “subjected to bullying, sexual harassment, abuse and neglect.”
- The government has paid out $845 million for VA medical malpractice since 2001.
- Some VA medical providers have lost their licenses to practice, and the VA has hidden this information from patients.
- Delays aren’t just about appointments for care. The VA has delays in disability claims, constructions, urgent care and registries.
- Some VA nurses spend their time conducting union activities to advocate for better conditions for nurses instead of caring for and advocating for veterans.
- VA expanded health care eligibility in 2009 to veterans who already had insurance without any service-connected injuries or illnesses, which increased the delays and stress on the system.
- VA doctors see fewer patients than doctors in private practices and often leave work early most days. Some are paid “not to work and more and more employees are not even showing up for work.”
- Criminal activity at the department is “pervasive.” The report alleges drug dealing, theft and “even murder.”
“This report shows the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined,” Coburn said in a statement on his website. “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 as increased rapidly in recent years.”
The fiscal year appropriations legislation provides for $158.2 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending for the VA, $10.3 billion higher than the fiscal year 2014 appropriation.