Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Military veterans aren’t the only victims of the Veterans Health Administration’s chronic negligence. The department is endangering the lives of civilians, too.
The VA health system recently fired dozens of workers for serious medical misdeeds — but covered up the reasons for those dismissals. That enabled incompetent doctors and nurses to return to private practice and harm more patients, according to a USA Today investigation.
The shameful revelations are nothing new for the VA, which suffers from all the dysfunctions common in single-payer systems — including rationing of care, bureaucratic snafus, and rank incompetence.
Standards of care at the VA are notoriously low. But some doctors still fail to meet them. When that happens, the VA generally doesn’t fire them. It quietly lets them off the hook and asks them to find different employers.
Consider the case of Thomas Franchini, a former VA podiatrist. Franchini performed two surgeries on a soldier who broke her ankle during basic training. He botched the procedures and incorrectly fused her bones. The soldier experienced such severe chronic pain that she eventually asked doctors to amputate her leg below the knee.
This wasn’t Franchini’s only mistake. He botched procedures on nearly 90 other veterans. His errors included inserting the wrong screw into one patient’s bone and severing another’s tendon.
The VA did not fire him. Instead, it allowed him to resign and kept the details of his exit under wraps, according to the USA Today expose. He still sees patients at a private practice.
Stories like this abound at the VA. The agency has forced at least 126 incompetent health-care workers out the door in recent years. The VA agreed to omit negative reports from more than 80 of those employees’ files. The agency even provided positive recommendations to help these workers secure jobs outside the VA.
These cover-ups put civilian lives in danger.
Sadly, this behavior is par for the course. The VA has long prioritized its own reputation over patients’ health. A 2014 audit revealed that employees at more than 100 VA facilities tampered with appointment data to hide outrageous wait times.
Nothing has changed in the last three years. The agency continues to lie about how long veterans must wait for care. Thirty-six percent of veterans in the Mid-Atlantic region waited at least a month to see a doctor, according to a March report by the VA’s inspector general.
Until it was caught red-handed by its own auditors, the VA had claimed that only 10 percent had to wait that long.
Despite these failures, the VA’s leadership sees little need to change. “We will not allow VA to be privatized on our watch,” David Shulkin, the agency’s secretary, said this summer.
Many political progressives are clamoring for a nationwide single-payer system. Our nation’s disastrous experience with the single-payer VA should quash those calls.