THE V.A. SCANDAL/ Timeline: The Story Behind the Scandal

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AngelGirl
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Thu May 22, 2014 5:41 am

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/poli ... e/9373227/

Timeline: The story behind the VA scandal
The Arizona Republic 1:40 p.m. EDT May 21, 2014
VA MEDICAL CENTER

The Obama administration is facing a serious scandal in which government officials are alleged to have falsified data to hide how long veterans were waiting to see doctors at VA hospitals. The controversy has led to calls for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has served for five years. Here is a timeline of events leading up to the current situation, which President Obama on Wednesday called "intolerable" and "disgraceful."

• Early 2012: Dr. Katherine Mitchell, a Veterans Affairs emergency-room physician, warns Sharon Helman, incoming director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, that the Phoenix ER is overwhelmed and dangerous. Mitchell now alleges she was told within days by senior administrators that she had deficient communication skills and was transferred out of the ER.

• Later in 2012: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs orders implementation of electronic wait-time tracking and makes improved patient access a top priority. In December, the Government Accountability Office tells the Veterans Health Administration that its reporting of outpatient medical-appointment wait times is "unreliable."

Story: Obama says he won't tolerate misconduct at VA

Story: VA chief Shinseki's reputation eroding quickly

• March 2013: The GAO's Debra Draper tells a House subcommittee: "Although access to timely medical appointments is critical to ensuring that veterans obtain needed medical care, long wait times and inadequate scheduling processes at VAMCs (medical centers) have been persistent problems."

• July 2013: In an e-mail exchange among employees at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, an employee questions whether administrators are improperly touting their Wildly Important Goals program. "I think it's unfair to call any of this a success when veterans are waiting six weeks on an electronic waiting list before they're called to schedule their first PCP (primary-care provider) appointment," program analyst Damian Reese complains.

• September 2013: Mitchell files a confidential complaint intended for the VA Office of Inspector General, channeled through Arizona Sen. John McCain's office. Her list of concerns instead goes to the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs and eventually back to the VA. Mitchell, meanwhile, is placed on administrative leave.

• October 2013: Dr. Sam Foote, a doctor of internal medicine at the Phoenix VA, files a complaint with the VA Office of Inspector General alleging purported successes in reducing wait times stem from manipulation of data, and that vets are dying while awaiting appointments for medical care.

• December 2013: Foote retires, assuming the role of whistle-blower by meeting with Arizona Republic reporter Dennis Wagner. He details allegations that patients have died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA and that wait times have been falsified.

• April 9: Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, says during a hearing that dozens of VA hospital patients in Phoenix may have died while awaiting medical care. He says staff investigators have evidence that the Phoenix VA Health Care System keeps two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits for appointments.

• April 16: A Phoenix rally organized by Concerned Veterans for America and attended by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., draws 150 veterans and their supporters calling for solutions to the controversy.

• May 1: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki places Helman and two others on administrative leave pending an outcome to the inspector general's probe.

• May 2: Mitchell goes public with her allegations about mismanagement of the Phoenix VA system and her concerns about wait times, noting that she and a co-worker moved to protect some documents as evidence.

• May 5: The American Legion's national leaders call for Shinseki's resignation. Shinseki says he intends to stay put.

• May 8: Shinseki orders records audits of all VA health-care facilities around the U.S. a day after U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., makes the request.

• May 9: McCain, R-Ariz., holds a town hall in Phoenix where he proposes a new system that would allow veterans to go outside the VA to seek private health care at government expense.
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Thu May 22, 2014 5:44 am

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2 ... ircus.html


The Daily Beast


05.21.14
Obama Let the VA Scandal Become a Political Circus

The president spoke out forcefully on the VA scandal that’s blamed for dozens of deaths. But his words came too late; this is now a spectacle and a political circus.

President Obama sounded resolute Wednesday addressing the secret waiting lists at VA hospitals, until you noticed the caveats that hung off nearly every line.

It was the first time the president addressed the VA scandal and it came almost a month after the story broke. But the speech was more detailed than anything that had yet come from the White House and sounded all the more forceful coming after VA Secretary Shinseki’s tepid appearance before Congress last week.

Had this speech come two weeks—or even ten days—ago, it might have been taken in good faith as a signal that real accountability was coming in short order. But for many, that moment has passed. What was once a structural problem within the VA, a severe but manageable internal issue, has now taken on political dimensions that make solving the actual healthcare challenges for veterans more difficult. In early May, this was a V.A. scandal. Now, with everyone from Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh weighing in, it’s become a political circus—the “Vetghazi” they were waiting for.

“It is important that our veterans don’t become another political football,” the president said. And he’s right, of course. But this has already become a political issue, though it didn’t need to be that way.

Inevitably we’ve arrived at the point, call it the political event horizon, where substantive discussions about the VA’s serious problems may be lost in the vortex of Benghazi and death panels invocations.

“I know the death panel is obviously a factor in certain cases,” Rush Limbaugh said knowingly of the VA crisis, “whether they want to admit it or not.” It was a point Sean Hannity later picked up on and repeated for his radio show.

The opportunity hasn’t been lost on advocates of dismantling the VA and privatizing veteran’s healthcare. Privatization was brought up repeatedly to the veteran’s service organizations at last week’s senate testimony, and unanimously rejected by them, including by conservative leaning groups that were present. But the fact that veterans themselves overwhelmingly reject privatizing the VA hasn’t stopped the idea from picking up steam, in fact it’s getting more free publicity now than it has in a long time.

Had this speech come two weeks—or even ten days—ago, it might have been taken in good faith as a signal that real accountability was coming in short order. But for many, that moment has passed.

For weeks, the White House largely left the VA to deal with this problem on its own. The VA’s response was to insist that no conclusions could be drawn until investigations were complete. In other words: despite the years-long history of warnings about the wait list buildup and the mounting evidence of its magnitude, essentially nothing could be done.

“If these allegations prove to be true,” the president said Wednesday, referring to the waiting lists and their alleged cover-up, “it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period.” But Obama stressed, echoing statements that Shinseki has made, that it is still too early to draw conclusions. “I don’t yet know how systemic this is,” the president said.

But that’s not quite true. On Tuesday night, hours before the president’s speech, the VA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) announced that their investigation, which began with one VA hospital in Phoenix, had now spread to 26 facilities across the country. The IG’s investigation is ongoing but the pattern of gaming the system, using similar methods to achieve the same outcomes, is remarkably uniform across the VA system. From whisteblowers in Phoenix and Albuquerque, to leaked emails from Cheyenne there appears to be an entrenched and well established practice of false reporting tied to earning performance bonuses.

“We know that it often takes too long for veterans to receive the care that they need,” President Obama said, “it’s not a new problem.”

The problem is complicated, it involves the geography of VA medical resources, veteran population density and access bottlenecks, but as the president acknowledges, it’s not new. In fact, the VA has known about the access problem for years, and has received warnings about the crooked records keeping schemes to cover it up with false reporting at least since 2010. But after acknowledging the roots of the problem, and the past warnings about it, the president offered nothing new today, as Shinseki failed to do last week, to explain how it has gone unaddressed for so long.

And despite the long trail and ample forewarning about the problem, the president urged patience. “People are angry and want swift reckoning,” Obama said before stressing the need to let current investigations take their course before holding individuals responsible. It’s still unclear what these current investigations have to do with holding individuals responsible for past mistakes that have already been documented. Or, why new investigations are necessary to confirm that there is a problem at faculties that have already been cited for fraudulent records keeping in past official reports.

On the most politically contentious issue, whether or not Secretary Shinseki should resign, as some veterans groups and politicians have called for, the president gave the VA leader his public endorsement but added an addendum to keep his options open.

Secretary Shinseki “cares deeply about the mission,” the president said and “if he doesn’t think he can do a good job…then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.” But in other remarks, the president suggested that firings and resignations could come based on the results of pending investigations.

By trying to just weather the storm rather than taking early, aggressive steps to police signs of internal corruption, the VA has unintentionally provided ammo to its own enemies. And the White House, which is only now weighing in after seeing the VA’s leadership flounder, missed its own opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership and instead gave its opponents the next scandal that they have been waiting for since Benghazi.

Obama’s late involvement may have come because he and his advisers feared this would become an indelible stain on his record, but the responsibility now unambiguously rests with the president. A growing national scandal dogging Obama’s legacy, could force the level of senior attention and oversight necessary to address these problems—or it could make this even more political than it has already become.

Carl Blake, who testified before the Senate last week representing the Paralyzed Veterans of America, offers this about the VA’s role: “the VA’s specialized services, to include spinal cord injury care, blinded care, amputee care, and polytrauma care, are incomparable resources that often cannot be duplicated in the private sector.”

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Thu May 22, 2014 5:49 am

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Thu May 22, 2014 7:44 am

Just remember that the VA medical system, on a smaller (but still very large) scale, is akin to a national single-payer system that Obama, and many other liberals, have stated as their preference for a national medical care model.
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Thu May 22, 2014 8:34 am

Pete wrote:Just remember that the VA medical system, on a smaller (but still very large) scale, is akin to a national single-payer system that Obama, and many other liberals, have stated as their preference for a national medical care model.
And what could possibly go wrong with that?
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