KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Blistering Review Criticizes VA For Downplaying Whistleblower Reports Of Deficient Patient Care

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs in a Monday letter to President Barack Obama, noting that the agency failed to acknowledge allegations of poor patient care made by its own employees.  

The New York Times: Investigator Issues Sharp Criticism Of V.A. Response To Allegations About Care
In a blistering letter sent to President Obama on Monday, the head of the agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints in the federal government criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for not digging deeper into widespread allegations made by its own employees of poor or severely delayed patient care for veterans (Oppel, 6/23).

Los Angeles Times: VA Fails To Acknowledge ‘Severity Of Problems,’ New Report Says
In another damning report on the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Special Counsel on Monday assailed the VA for failing to acknowledge the “severity of systemic problems” that have put patients at risk. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a letter to President Obama that her office found a “troubling pattern of deficient patient care” and expressed concern about what she termed the department’s unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of its problems on the health and safety of veterans. Her office is investigating more than 50 cases brought by whistle-blowers (Simon, 6/23).

The Associated Press: VA Challenged On Handling Of Whistleblower Chargers
A top federal investigator has identified “a troubling pattern of deficient patient care” at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country that she says was pointed out by whistleblowers but downplayed by the department. The problems went far beyond the extraordinarily long wait time for some appointments — and the attempts to cover them up — that has put the department under intense scrutiny (6/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Affairs Watchdog Downplayed Medical Care Problems, Probe Finds
A Department of Veterans Affairs internal watchdog created to safeguard the medical care provided to former service members instead routinely played down the effect of treatment errors and appointment delays, a federal special counsel alleged Monday. … The strongly worded critique adds a new layer to the veterans-care scandal that has rocked the VA and the Obama administration in recent months (Phillips and Kesling, 6/23).

Politico: Report: VA Overlooked Whistleblowers
The Department of Veterans Affairs has put patients at risk by overlooking reports from whistleblowers detailing dirty medical equipment and illegal narcotic prescriptions, an independent federal investigator said on Monday (French, 6/23).

USA Today: VA Employee: I Kept A Secret Phoenix VA List
A scheduling employee for the Phoenix VA Health Care System disclosed Monday that she was the keeper of a "secret list" of veterans who waited months for medical care. She also accused others of altering records after the scandal broke to try to hide the deaths of at least seven veterans awaiting care. Pauline DeWenter went public as a whistle-blower Monday, saying she has spoken to investigators in the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General about the waiting list and her suspicions of an orchestrated cover-up (Wagner, 6/24). 

The Arizona Republic: Phoenix VA Officials Knew Of False Data For 2 Years
The Department of Veterans Affairs has consistently ignored whistle-blower warnings about dangerous practices that jeopardize patient safety, according to a scathing letter sent to President Barack Obama by the Office of Special Counsel. The letter sent Monday by the independent federal investigative agency says the failure of Phoenix VA officials to heed alerts about fraudulent appointment scheduling is part of a "troubling pattern" nationally where the VA investigated and verified complaints but did nothing to correct problems. "The VA, and particularly the VA's Office of the Medical Inspector, has consistently used a 'harmless error' defense, where the department acknowledges problems but claims patient care is unaffected," says the letter (Wagner, 6/23).

The Boston Globe: Patients Neglected At Brockton VA Facility, Officials Say
Two psychiatric patients at a veterans facility in Brockton received no regular evaluations of their condition for years, part of a “troubling pattern of deficient patient care” that federal investigators say they have confirmed at veterans health care facilities nationwide. One of the neglected patients at the Brockton Community Living Center who had been admitted for “significant and chronic mental health issues” was living in the 106-bed facility for eight years before he received his first psychiatric evaluation, investigators reported. The other unidentified patient, although he was classified as 100 percent mentally disabled due to his military service, had only a single “psychiatric note” placed in his medical file between 2005 and 2013 (Bender, 6/24).

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