Recently released VA reports include cases of veteran harm, death

In this March 11, 2015 photo, a patient walks down a hallway at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, N.C. The VA hospital is one of the most backed-up facilities in the country. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Newly released investigative reports by the inspector general has revealed a pattern of dysfunction in operations and mistreatment of veterans at VA facilities across the country.  Nearly 140 cases exposed instances of missed diagnoses, failures during treatment, questionable drug prescriptions practices and misuse of funds.

According to USA Today, the range of outcomes in the reports indicate that the inspector general may have lacked a uniform standard for deciding when to issue public findings.  Although roughly 50 reports dismissed allegations of wrongdoing, a larger number of them contained substantiated claims.  In several cases, the VA was trusted to correct the problems rather than making the findings open to the public.

The reports unveiled alarming examples of harm and dismay.  For example, when reports surfaced in Georgia, Kentucky and Florida that providers had been prescribing potentially questionable amounts or combinations of narcotics to veterans, the inspector general failed to release a public report.  Less than five months later, a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran died from mixed drug toxicity as an inpatient at a VA facility located in Wisconsin.

Joanne Moffett, a spokeswoman for the interim VA inspector general Richard Griffin, said Wednesday that it was common practice not to release public reports when potential lawsuits are involved, when it has been determined VA officials have taken steps to rid the problem or when complaints are unfounded.

USA Today reported last month that Griffin directed that in the future only he or his immediate staff would be able to make decisions regarding publicly releasing findings.  However, several members of Congress feel that his move is not good enough and is illogical.

“The only way you have any hope of fixing a bureaucracy is for public disclosure,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, who co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would require public release in the future of inspection reports at the VA and across the federal government.

Approximately 75 inspectors general are tasked under a 1978 law to be independent watchdogs within agencies.  Their purpose is to eradicate waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Among their responsibilities is the task of keeping Congress and the public “fully and currently informed” of any problems they uncover.

The inspectors general can launch investigations based on requests from Congress, on tips they get from employees or the public or upon learning separately of potential wrongdoing.  Almost all the investigations in the newly released reports were generated by tips from VA employees, veteran patients, their family members or the public.

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