The Inspector General’s report on the waiting list scandal at the VA has been released. The 140 page study found that although 28 veterans had “significant delays” in care, and six died, the deaths could not be linked to the delays. In fact, of the 40 patients who died while on the Electronic Waiting List between April 2013 and April 2014, none of their deaths were attributed to delays in care.
The report, however, addresses the secret waiting lists, the “cooking of the books,” and contains a total of 24 recommendations to fix the system. But, it lets the VA and the government evade responsibility for the veterans who died.
“While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely, quality care caused the death of these victims,” states the executive summary of the report.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald agreed to implement all of the recommendations listed in the report and has stated that employees have been disciplined. “Two members of the senior executive service have resigned or retired. Three members of the senior executive service have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of investigations. Over two dozen health care professionals have been removed from their positions, and four more GS-15s or below have been placed on administrative leave.”
So, the verdict is that the VA did some things wrong, blame has been assigned and people were fired, but the deaths were not caused by the waiting lists. The media reported that the allegations against the VA were exaggerated and the veterans died of other causes. Time to move on, nothing to see here.
Well, not really. It seems there may be some problems with the VA report and the standards the Inspector General set for the deaths to be caused by the waiting periods. All of the veterans died from the underlying problem: heart disease, cancer, pneumonia or others. Not from the delays in care they received. The wording is important here, because by the measure they set, it would have been impossible for the VA to be responsible for any deaths. Ever.
“Delay of care may not have been the proximate cause of death,” said Dr. Gregory Schmunk, chief medical examiner in Polk County, Iowa and former head of the National Association of Medical Examiners, “but the real question is: Did delay of treatment cause the patient to die earlier than necessary?”
The wording of the report has also been challenged by Senator Dean Heller, R-Nev. “I don’t want to give the VA a pass on this, and that’s exactly what this line does. It exonerates the VA of any responsibility in past manipulation of these … wait times.”
By setting the standard so high, the government is trying to dodge the culpability it has in the deaths of these veterans. The media is helping them by claiming that the case against the VA is overblown and that whistleblower claims are exaggerated.
Is this any way to treat our veterans? Where is the outrage?
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the policies of this website or organization.
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