Wednesday, June 25, 2014

EDITORIAL >> No longer applicable’

Veterans seldom complain about substandard care at VA hospitals and clinics. But several whistleblowers have come forward to let the country know about long wait times for appointments — often as long as four months, which has contributed to the deaths of hundreds of veterans.

The FBI is investigating allegations of fraudulent record keeping that kept auditors from uncovering systemic problems at the VA. Apart from negligence, several staff members are accused of collecting bonuses by faking records. Bureaucrats hid waiting lists in desk drawers. They falsified wait times, reducing them from several months to just a couple of weeks. Veterans who died in the meantime were deleted from the system and described as “no longer applicable.”

All key managers received the highest evaluations by superiors while veterans were receiving mediocre or no care at all. An investigation should uncover how many millions of dollars were awarded to these higher-ups, who could face prison terms if convicted. At the very least, they should return the bonuses that were awarded under false pretenses.

The VA system is probably no worse than other public and private hospitals and perhaps better than most. The VA operates the largest health-care system in the country with 1,700 hospitals, clinics, counseling centers, homes and other facilities. Patients die for lack of timely care not just at VA hospitals, but in the best and worst private and public hospitals. Mistakes are inevitable.

Families grieve and move on. Sometimes lawsuits are filed, but almost never at VA hospitals. Veterans share horror stories among themselves, but, as we say, don’t draw too much attention to themselves.

They like the low-cost health-care system, which they deserve because of their years of service to their country. But the managers who have covered up the shoddy care must be punished.

The scandal has cost a good man, former Army Gen. Eric Shineski, his job as VA chief. New leadership must reform the sprawling system, ensure the best care for our veterans and reduce waste by eliminating bonuses for the rest of the decade.