CNN reports that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned as a result of the massive VA scandal that has resulted in an unknown number of veteran deaths due to lack of medical care. At least forty veterans died at a Phoenix VA facility that used secret waiting lists to hide the massive backlog they were suffering from and to win administrators bonuses for timely patient care. The problem was not limited to Phoenix however. Federal auditors have been investigating facilities all over the country, including the Hines VA facility in Maywood. As we reported on May 16, 2014, a whistleblower at the Maywood facility has reported that the same sort of secret waiting lists that were used in Arizona are being used at Maywood.
The resignation comes at the same time as the auditors have issued their report on exactly how widespread this horrific problem is. The Army Times reports that the audit shows that over sixty percent of Veterans Affairs health facilities that were surveyed “toyed with” appointment dates. Part of the problem, according to the auditors, is the unrealistic 14-day target the VA has to set appointments within. They simply lack the resources to make that happen, so the secret waiting lists are born.
The problem is not limited to fake waiting lists. The report also states that thirteen percent of the scheduling staff at 138 facilities said they had been told to enter a desired date different from the date requested by the veteran into the system. That problem occurred at sixty-four percent of the facilities. Meanwhile, between seven and eight percent of the scheduling staff used either paper lists or untraceable databases to keep track of appointments instead of the traceable electronic wait system they were supposed to use so that massive delays would be detected. Without the proper system being used, there was no way to prove that the facilities were overloaded and that they needed additional resources to provide necessary care.
The problem is worse in some areas then others. Earlier this week USA Today reported on the situation in Louisville, Kentucky. They told the story of Patricia Mahaun, an Air Force veteran. She moved to Louisville and tried to schedule a VA appointment to (1) get a new doctor since she had moved, (2) get checked for a possible urinary tract infection, and (3) get a flu shot. She waited six months. The national goal is that wait times be limited to fourteen days.
These sorts of delays in care are unacceptable. Delayed care results in delayed diagnosis and treatment. This can be deadly. Conditions like some cancers can be treated quickly and easily if caught in the early stages. But when patients are forced to wait for months for treatment, their conditions can advance to later stage, untreatable illness, resulting in death. This type of medical malpractice needs to be stopped immediately.