A bombshell report just revealed that a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital knowingly hired a physician with a record of more than a dozen cases of malpractice, including the death of a patient. Other recent VA physician recruits include a known sexual predator and a dangerous felon.
A separate analysis from the Government Accountability Office determined that several VA medical facilities had ignored roughly half of all patient complaints.
These are merely the latest additions to a laundry list of shameful incidents at VA medical centers. The agency seems incapable of delivering high-quality care to the patients it serves — or even holding its employees accountable. Our nation’s heroes are suffering the consequences.
VA medical facilities are infamous for administering low-quality care. The latest GAO report, which examined five VA medical centers from 2013 to 2017, proves as much. Administrators of the medical centers were supposed to monitor and review the performance of 112 doctors “after concerns were raised (by patients) about their clinical care.”
But they shirked their responsibilities. GAO auditors concluded that administrators never reviewed 21 of the doctors. The medical centers were unable to provide documentation that reviews took place for 26 other physicians. One medical center did complete its required reviews — three and a half years late.
Administrators’ negligence enabled incompetent doctors to continue treating — and likely harming — veterans.
When administrators do find hard evidence of malpractice, they often sweep it under the rug. An October USA Today expose of VA facilities revealed at least 126 cases in which employees committed fireable offenses. Instead of immediately terminating these doctors and nurses, the VA asked them to resign — and gave them secret settlements on their way out the door.
In about 75% of the settlements, administrators omitted the incidents from employees’ records and even recommended them to other employers.
Consider the case of Thomas Franchini, a podiatrist at a Maine VA hospital. Franchini botched 88 procedures. He severed a patient’s tendon during one surgery and failed to successfully fuse one woman’s ankle in another. The latter’s leg had to be amputated as a result.
Franchini wasn’t fired for any of these errors. Instead, the VA allowed him to resign and return to private practice.
The VA has even hired doctors who have lost their medical licenses — even though federal law prohibits them from doing so.
In December 2017, USA Today revealed that the VA Hospital in Iowa City had recruited surgeon John Schneider, despite knowing that Wyoming had revoked his license. This summer, Schneider conducted four brain surgeries in just four weeks on one veteran. The patient died just weeks later due to infection.
Another vet withstood three spinal surgeries from Schneider; a month after his third, his wound still hadn’t healed.
This negligence is too often the norm in VA medical centers. Vietnam veteran Bill Nutter died at a VA hospital in Massachusetts earlier this year because his nurse’s aide failed to check on him. She instead opted to play video games while on the clock, according to the Boston Globe.
Vets have to wait for care outside the hospital, too. The VA aims to keep wait times for appointments under 14 days. The department can’t even clear this low bar.
As of September, new patients had to wait an average of over three weeks to see a primary care doctor. Worse, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin recently announced that delays in care will likely spike in 2018.
Many VA facilities try to hide these shortcomings. The agency itself has recently been forced to admit that employees at hospitals in California, Colorado, and several other states manipulated wait time lists for years to show that delays were shorter — or in some cases, nonexistent.
The VA is in shambles. Absent reform that allows vets to seek care in the private sector, our veterans will continue to be subjected to subpar care.