Veterangate: VA ‘cooked the books’ for over six years

Thursday, May 29, 2014
By Paul Martin
May 28, 2014

It took at least 23 deaths for America to wake up to what’s been known since 2010: Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals have been cooking the books for six years to hide that they were delaying and denying care to the country’s veterans.

The growing scandal began in early May, when a Veterans Affairs (VA) employee alleged that at least 40 patients died waiting for an appointment at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. US lawmakers then launched an investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs after multiple whistleblowers came forward to say that veteran’s hospitals systematically manipulate waiting lists, resulting in the deaths of dozens of patients. An agency report linked 23 of the reported 40 deaths in multiple states to delayed treatment.

Although the White House denied previous knowledge of the VA’s manipulation, a Washington Times report based on a Freedom of Information Act request found that the administration was told about waiting list problems at medical facilities more than five years ago, just after President Barack Obama was elected to his first term. In the documents, VA officials cautioned the incoming Obama team that the waiting times being reported by veterans facilities around the country may not be accurate.

But the executive branch wasn’t the only place to receive the warning. The VA Inspector General and veterans’ advocates had been sounding the alarm on bogus documentation and systemic delays since the early days of the Iraq War, when soldiers returning from battlefield flooded the healthcare system designed for their use, AlterNet reported in 2010. That’s when a leaked memo from VA Deputy Undersecretary for Health Operations and Management William Schoenhard reached the press.

“It has come to my attention that, in order to improve scores on assorted access measures, certain facilities have adopted use of inappropriate scheduling practices sometimes referred to as ‘gaming strategies’,” Schoenhard wrote in the April 26, 2010 memo.

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