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Steve Knight: VA medical centers need oversight

Posted: April 29, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 29, 2014 2:00 a.m.

When veterans return home, their fighting days should be over. They put their lives on the line for their country and fought the good fight.

The Veterans Administration was created to ease their concerns when they come home and to take care of them, not to begin another battle.

Unfortunately for many vets across the country, the VA Medical Centers are failing at keeping these veterans healthy.

In Phoenix, the center is being blamed for 40 deaths. The reason? Patients were never seen for long-overdue medical exams.

Most of their deaths were preventable, and rather than having these patients seen, the center created an elaborate scheme to cover up the long waiting time.

What is the center doing to answer these allegations? Not much. Fingers are pointing and excuses are being made, but no real solutions are offered and no comfort provided to the families who have lost a loved one.

A few weeks ago, a whistle-blower came forward with allegations of inaccurate records, preventable or premature deaths, mismanagement and other systemic problems in Phoenix.

Dr. Sam Foote, who retired from the Phoenix VA in December, filed an inquiry with the VA Inspector General.

Dr. Foote alleges that the facility created dual lists. One list was a lie created to cover up the fact that between 1,400 and 1,600 sick veterans were waiting up to 21 months to see a doctor.

According to CNN, “the official list shows the VA was offering timely appointments within 14 to 30 days. Foote called this a ‘sham list’ because there was another secret document where waits were much longer.”

He claimed that the scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own rules, and the sophisticated plan involved shredding evidence to hide the real list.

VA officials even instructed the staff to not make veterans’ appointments in the computer system.

If these allegations are true, many resources were used to cover up this scheme. I wish this creativity focused on solving the problem — rather than concealing it.

The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee is currently investigating this, and it is my hope that those responsible for these deaths are held accountable.

But the bigger issue here is the lack of staffing at these facilities. I hope the committee creates solutions for this under-staffing problem and ensures these patients are seen in a timely matter.

No one should have to wait months to see a doctor when he or she is sick — especially our veterans.

One patient who ran out of time was Thomas Breen. He went in the Phoenix VA hospital and was sent home after being deemed critical.

His family waited and waited to hear from the center for his next appointment, but the call came six days after Mr. Breen died.

No one who sacrificed so much for our country should be treated that way. These VA centers need our help.

Steve Knight is a Republican state senator representing part of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley.



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