The Next Big Thing™ in whitewashes is just in from the VA. The VA OIG has written a superficial report, after a cursory investigation, that — wonder of wonders! — finds no wrongdoing. Nothing happened. Why, the cover letter from the VA’s latest failed Secretary hints that even the dead guys aren’t dead:
We appreciate OIG’s in-depth investigation into a whistleblower’s allegation that
40 Veterans died waiting for an appointment. OIG pursued this allegation, but the whistleblower was unable to provide OIG with a list of 40 patient names. It is important to note that while OIG’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality of care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these Veterans.
Indeed, the report’s very title reanimates the vets slain by bonus-grubbing VA weenies’ neglect (emphasis ours): Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Alleged, dear friends: they’re probably not dead. They’s just pining for the fjords.
And the administration’s hod carriers in the press were keen to carry this particular hod, most of them quoting the text from the Secretary’s CYA letter, above, found in appendix K of the report. Case in point: NBC News’s Rich Gardella.
But what about those 40 vets? Did they die while neglected on waiting lists, or did the whistleblower, Dr Foote, make them up? Well, let’s quote from the IG report:
From our review of PVAHCS electronic records, we were able to identify 40 patients who died while on the EWL during the period April2013 through April 2014.
The “EWL” is the electronic wait list; most veterans at Phoenix were never placed on that “official” list, and the IG does not seem to have pursued any investigative leads about vets who died on the bogus, ad-hoc, and secret “neglect lists.” The report’s signatory, Acting IG Richard Griffin, argues that the neglect doesn’t matter because the delays in or absence of treatment was never “clinically significant”: i.e., for all those 40 and all the other dead vets, it was just their time to go; they might have gone while neglected, but that was not a cause of their deaths.
How he knows this when the clinical state of the neglected vets was, quite literally, unknown to the VA, the agency that deliberately was not seeing them, is unclear.
However, the patients on the EWL were a minority of the Phoenix VA patients. For every patient on that list, more than two were on the unofficial, shadow, hidden-for-the-bonuses wait lists:
Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Report #14-02603-267
As of April 22, 2014, we identified about 1,400 veterans waiting to receive a scheduled primary care appointment who were appropriately included on the PVAHCS EWL. However, as our work progressed, we identified over 3,500 additional veterans, many of whom were on what we determined to be unofficial wait lists, waiting to be scheduled for appointments but not on PVAHCS’s official EWL. These veterans were at risk of never obtaining their requested or necessary appointments. PVAHCS senior administrative and clinical leadership were aware of unofficial wait lists and that access delays existed.
Heads are going to roll, right? Just about the time that Lucy lets Charlie Brown kick the football?
Unlikely. Probably the biggest lie, among the many lies in the report and in the Secretary’s response, is the following:
VA took immediate and ongoing actions to address the deficiencies
The scandal first broke on April 30, 2014, 121 days ago, when CNN broke the story that 40 vets had died due to the Phoenix wait list abuse. To date, apart from Rick Shinseki who slunk off into a too-late retirement with a fat pension and an inflated opinion of himself, no one’s lost a job, or faced a charge, or even had any superior direct a cross word at him.
One of the few actions that the new secretary has taken? Restore the bonuses.
Yeah. That’ll help.