Issues

Whistleblower: VA Covered Up Veteran Deaths

New whistleblower tells CNN, 'It is beyond horrible'

A new whistleblower has come forward in the VA scandal, telling CNN the Phoenix VA has been covering up veteran deaths. Someone in the VA  removed "deceased" notes from electronic files so that they would not show up on statistics of veterans who died awaiting VA attention.

The whistleblower, Phoenix VA scheduling clerk Pauline DeWenter, also said she was forced to make life and death decisions about who would receive care. When she finally came forward to the Inspector General, the office ignored her evidence.

CNN’s Drew Griffin, who first reported on the scandal, asked DeWenter, "Somebody is going on that electronic wait list and where people are identified as being dead, somebody is changing that and saying ‘no they're not dead'?"

"Correct," DeWenter told him. She then confirmed that this has been occurring "fairly recently." She said investigators are aware of this, because she personally surrendered the evidence to them.

In early 2013, DeWenter says she was ordered to begin hiding new appointment requests from veterans in a desk drawer. "It is beyond horrible," she told Griffin.

Eventually DeWenter, while only a scheduling clerk, was forced into making life and death decisions on who the VA would treat. "It sounds so wrong to say, but I tried to work these scheduled appointments so at least I felt the sickest of the sick were being treated."

Straining under the stress of this task, DeWenter eventually broke when she found an appointment for a Navy veteran who had come to the VA urinating blood several months earlier. By the time she reached the family, he was already dead. Although DeWenter did not disclose the family’s name, CNN believes the story matches that of the Barnes family, which they have previously reported.

DeWenter promised the deceased veteran’s family "I would do everything in my power to never have this happen to another veteran again." She teamed up with VA doctor Sam Foote to reveal the system’s abuses to the Inspector General. "I thought, ‘Okay, this is it. This is gonna be all over,' you know? Then it wasn't. And we were waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And nothing ever happened… Nothing. We didn't hear anything. The leadership (in Phoenix) was telling us, ‘Oh, we passed everything. We're not doing anything wrong.' And I'm like, ‘We're not doing anything wrong? But people are still dying?'"

Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), said of DeWenter’s reports, "For somebody like this whistleblower to have been forced to make decisions that only medical providers should be making, to triage patients as to whether or not they should be put in a drawer, is just certainly unconscionable."