Veteran Ignored for 8 Years in Psych Facility

Scathing letter reveals VA gets 25% of government's whistleblower complaints

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 23, 2014 12:41 PM CDT

(Newser) – The VA's Office of the Medical Inspector routinely dismisses the agency's deficiencies as harmless to patients' health—even though that is patently and obviously untrue, according to a new report from the Office of Special Counsel that turned up a host of disturbing new allegations against the VA. According to the report, there are more than 50 pending whistleblower cases from Veterans Affairs employees, representing "more than a quarter of all matters referred by OSC for investigation government-wide," the report says, according to CNN. Specific allegations in the new report include::

  • One patient spent more than eight years in a Brockton, Mass., psychiatric facility before he even received a comprehensive evaluation or any medication assessments. Another veteran, admitted to the facility in 2005, didn't have a single note on his chart until seven years later. The OMI viewed these as "harmless errors."
  • The medical center in Jackson, Miss., was found to have committed a host of infractions, including unlawfully prescribing narcotics, using unsterile medical equipment, and scheduling appointments in "ghost clinics" that had no actual providers, resulting in veterans not receiving treatment. The VA has refused to acknowledge that these things affected veterans' health or safety
  • A Fort Collins, Colo., facility would frequently cancel appointments, then reschedule them without consulting the patient. When the patient asked to reschedule, the appointment was marked as canceled at the patient's request. At the time of the report, almost 3,000 veterans were unable to reschedule appointments.
  • Staff at the Fort Collins facility were also explicitly told to alter wait times to make them look shorter. Two employees were allegedly reassigned after refusing to "zero out" wait times. The OMI said it could find no evidence that any of the Colorado activities endangered patients' health or safety.
  • A pulmonologist at a Montgomery, Ala., facility tried to pass off notes from past providers as current readings for more than 1,200 patients. OMI once again couldn't say if this endangered patients.
  • A whistleblower in Grand Junction, Colo., said the facility's drinking water had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria, and that standard maintenance procedures to fix that problem were never performed. OMI found no substantial danger to public health.
The list goes on—you can read about them all in the OSC's letter to President Obama (pdf here). The VA's acting secretary responded with a written statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" by both the allegations and "the failures within VA to take whistleblower complaints seriously," and promised to accept the OSC's recommendations, the Wall Street Journal reports.

This photo from Saturday, May 17, 2014 shows the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix.
This photo from Saturday, May 17, 2014 shows the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York)
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