The controversy surrounding the VA engulfed the Gainesville VA Medical Center late Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s Office said late Tuesday. In total, so far, 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide amid allegations VA employees doctored records to hide waiting times and other issues.
The news comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Wednesday morning in the Oval Office. The White House, which is in full damage control, is beginning a probe to look into instances that veterans died while waiting for care.
The White House said Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, who is involved in an internal review, will also be at the meeting. The meeting was listed as an “update on the situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Calls for Shinseki to retire have been growing over the past week, but the White House has refused to ask for it, claiming the president has full confidence in the secretary. Among those who asked for the resignation was the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the country. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney continuously referred to the American Legion’s supposed praise of the administration over the resignation of a top VA health official, Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel.
Petzel, which was first reported by PeoplesPunditDaily.com last week, had already announced back in September that he planned to retire in 2014. The American Legion, despite White House claims, said in a statement that the resignation was “business as usual.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s Office said late Tuesday that 26 facilities were being investigated nationwide over allegations of manipulated waiting times and other issues. The Malcolm-Randall Medical Center in Gainesville, FL, was also named in the report as being among those who made veterans wait for an extended period of time for care, then tried to cover it up by doctoring the record.
One mental health profession who spoke to People’s Pundit Daily on the condition of anonymity faulted several factors for the problems names in the allegation, which they did not even dispute.
“No one is ever fired here,” they said. “Add to that — that the high-level administrative positions are largely filled with civilians who never served, and you get this problem. To them, this is a job, not a service to those who served us.”
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives hopes to chance that, and is set to vote Wednesday on a bill that would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki greater authority to fire or demote senior administrative executives.
Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the bill, stating that VA officials are more likely to receive bonuses or puff performance reviews than be held accountable, even when they clearly don’t deserve it.
The VA’s “widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems,” including the hiding of secret waiting lists to cover up intentional delays in patient appointments. The death toll of preventable veteran deaths is mounting, Miller said.
Miller accused the VA of a “well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes” and said Congress has an obligation to “give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do.”
In a brief comment yesterday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that the vast majority of his constituency requests have been requests regarding the VA.
“I have been in the Senate now for 3 1/2 years,” Senator Rubio said. “And the bulk of my office’s constituency requests have been VA-related.” Many of those requests are, in fact, complaints surrounding the Malcolm-Randall Gainesville VA Medical Center.
However, despite the president’s gesture, he refuses to support the granting of authority to the secretary to hold unworthy employees accountable. “The president is more concerned with protecting the sacredness of civil service employees than he is holding these people accountable,” Rubio added.
Presidential spokesman Jay Carney claimed that the White House shares the goals of the House bill — which is to supposedly “ensure accountability at the VA” — but says they have concerns about some of the details in the bill.
The controversy began when a former clinic director said that up to 40 veterans potentially died while waiting prolonged times for treatment at the Phoenix hospital. They said that staff, which acted at the instruction of administrators, kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.
The current director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, has been placed on leave indefinitely while the VA’s inspector general investigates the claims raised by several former VA employees.
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, plans to introduce legislation this week that would make the findings of the probe by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector available to Congress and the public “so the full scope of the VA’s dysfunction cannot be disguised.”
Moran pointed to the case of a VA nurse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, who was put on leave this month for telling employees to falsify appointment records. But the action came only after an email involving wait-list manipulation at the Cheyenne hospital was leaked to the media.
Moran also said the Cheyenne Medical Center was already the focus of a December 2013 report by Office of the Medical Inspector, which has substantiated claims of improper scheduling practices. But Moran said it’s unclear if action taken at the Cheyenne center was even based on the medical inspector’s findings, or leaks to the media due to the secrecy of the process.
“Because OMI reports are not available to the public and have not been previously released to Congress, it is impossible to know whether the VA has taken action to implement the OMI’s recommendations for improvement in each case,” Moran said.
Meanwhile, two Republican senators introduced legislation to stop the payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration through next year, indefinitely. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Deb Fischer of Nebraska said the VA should instead be concerned with using the money for fixing problems at the agency, “not rewarding employees entrenched in a failing bureaucracy.” Burr is currently the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, while Fischer is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
However, in the People’s House, the Republican majority passed a bill in February that would eliminate performance bonuses for the department’s senior executive staff through 2018.