After Clinton Minimizes VA Troubles, Three Reports Expose Shortfalls Across Country

Reviews show problems at facilities in Alaska, California, Illinois

Veterans Psychiatric Care
VA Medical Center / AP
October 29, 2015

Days after Hillary Clinton said that Republicans have inflated problems at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to make them appear more "widespread," three reports point to shortfalls and mismanagement at VA facilities across the country.

The VA Office of Inspector General released three separate reports on VA facilities in Alaska, Illinois, and California this week that found insufficiencies at the locations.

The first assessment, released Wednesday, found that a veteran who could not eat because of difficulty swallowing experienced a delay in getting care at the Oxnard Community Based Outpatient Clinic at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California. The patient later died.

The inspector general also found evidence of delayed care for hundreds of patients requesting consults at the facility. The investigation found that 548 neurology consults had been open for over 30 days, and nearly half of those were open over 90 days. Nearly two dozen general surgery consults were also found to have been open for more than 90 days.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has, since 2014, directed VA facilities to resolve consults before the 90-day mark.

A second inspector general report assessing various operations at the Marion VA Medical Center in Illinois was published Thursday and points to multiple shortfalls in facility and employee management.

Nearly all of the licensed independent practitioners the review analyzed did not have appropriate training to perform emergency airway management. Other employees had no proof of required competency assessments.

Moreover, the inspector general found that the facility had no "defined plan" to ensure that a qualified surgeon was available on call around the clock to report to the hospital within 60 minutes.

The same day, the inspector general released another report evaluating operations at the Alaska VA Healthcare System in Anchorage. It found that one licensed health care professional at the facility had been caring for patients for six months despite having "expired privileges." Eighty percent of new employees also had not received suicide prevention training.

The Alaska medical center failed the infection prevention assessment, as clean and dirty items were stored together in 75 percent of the patient care areas reviewed by the inspector general. The facility also had not corrected multiple physical insufficiencies that were identified as long as two years ago.

These reports come less than a week after Hillary Clinton said on MSNBC that scandal at the VA has "not been as widespread as it has been made out to be."

"There have been a number of surveys of veterans and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment," Clinton told Rachel Maddow on Friday. "Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see with the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have."

Clinton received immediate criticism from lawmakers, causing her campaign to walk back her statements. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a veteran, called on Clinton to apologize for her statements.

"If Hillary Clinton really believes the comments that she made, I don’t see how any veteran who cares about their fellow veterans … could support her quest for being commander in chief," McCain told the Washington Free Beacon on a press call Wednesday.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN that Clinton’s comments have been "misinterpreted" and that issues with care and wait times at the VA have indeed been "systemic." Fallon said Clinton would unveil a plan to reform the federal agency in November.

As evidenced by multiple inspector general reports, delays, poor care, and mismanagement have persisted at the VA more than a year after the fake wait list scandal of 2014 led to the deaths of dozens of veterans. An independent assessment of the VHA released in September concluded that the VA’s network of health systems needs a "system-wide reworking."

Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said that Clinton’s remarks show she has not been paying attention to issues at the VA and that she is "out of touch with the challenges [veterans] face on a daily basis." Both Miller and McCain criticized Clinton for injecting partisanship into the matter.

Veterans’ groups, such as Concerned Veterans for America and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, have also pushed back against Clinton’s comments.

"Every week, we learn of new instances in which veterans across the country were either denied care, or worse, given substandard care if they were lucky enough to make it in the doors of their VA facility in the first place," John Cooper, press secretary for Concerned Veterans for America, told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement Thursday.

"The problems at the VA, despite what Mrs. Clinton and others in Congress seem to think, are deeply rooted, and will only be fixed when policymakers in Washington show the courage to take on entrenched bureaucrats and government unions on behalf of our veterans."