NBC News reports that multiple whistleblowers claim administrators at a VA hospital in Phoenix ordered thousands of appointment requests from veterans be diverted to a “secret unofficial list” that was not to be reported. The theory was, if those veterans died, their names would disappear, and the hospital’s performance record would improve. Then the hospital would not be held accountable for possibly killing the patient with a delayed diagnosis.
One whistleblower explained to NBC that there was a huge demand on the hospital, and that they had limited resources. Rather than finding a solution to the supply and demand problem, the hospital covered up the problem. Veterans, both young and old, tried to get the medical care they were promised upon entering the military, but were turned away without treatment or diagnosis.
Failures to Diagnose Caused Veteran Deaths
Up to 40 patients died in the Phoenix hospital who may have been saved by earlier diagnoses if their appointment requests had not been put on the secret waiting-list. The daughter-in-law of one may who may have died due to the cover-up spoke with NBC. She told them her father-in-law went to the VA for urgent care but was refused treatment and was told to see his primary care VA doctor. Due to backlog, he waited months for an appointment, and died while he was waiting. One doctor summed up the problem with the delays quite well, saying “delayed care is denied care.” Delayed diagnosis is one of the most dangerous and even deadly types of medical malpractice that exists, because it prevents a patient from taking any steps to treat a medical problem in early stages. When dealing with serious conditions like cancer, delayed diagnosis can convert a relatively easy to treat condition into a death sentence.
House is Subpoenaing Records to Investigate Deaths
ABC News and The Associate Press report that the House Veteran Affairs Committee has voted to subpoena records relating to the hospital’s waiting list. This move comes while some in Congress, along with allies at The American Legion, have called for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary in light of the scandal. The committee has subpoenaed all emails and other records in which VA officials might have discussed destruction of the secret list, which the committee referred to as “an alternate or interim waitlist.”
Congress also recently asked the VA to explain why an interim list was created, when it was destroyed, and who destroyed it under what authority. The VA Secretary responded in a letter that VA employees used “transitory or interim notes . . . for reference purposes” as they were inputting data into a new electronic waitlist system. The VA claims regulations of the National Archives and Records Administration required that the documents be destroyed when they were no longer needed. This response was apparently not enough to satisfy the committee, as it has now subpoenaed all records related to the destruction and has given the VA until May 19, 2014 to produce the records. In the meantime, the Secretary has ordered a face-to-face audit of all VA clinics.