The Department of Veterans Affairs drew fire in 2014 for manipulating appointment waitlists while veterans died without care, but despite hopes that the agency would clean up its act, it hasn’t fared any better in 2015. In fact, increased scrutiny has resulted in more light shed on incredibly serious problems plaguing the department.
From patients dying while they wait to gross over-medication, here are the top five worst VA scandals of 2015.
- A year after the waitlist scandal, the number of veterans waiting for care is up by 50 percent
The waitlist manipulation scandal brought the VA into the public spotlight in 2014, and numerous waitlist scandals since continue to keep the VA under intense scrutiny. In June, The New York Times discovered that at the same time the department was posting a shortfall of $2.7 billion, wait times for appointments had increased by an unbelievable 50 percent, compared to wait times during the peak of the scandal in 2014. The VA failed to anticipate additional demand from veterans for services.
- Almost a third of veterans waiting for care have died without appointments
A leaked internal document from the VA reported in July showed that almost a third of all veterans on the waitlist for care had died while waiting for an appointment. The exact total of veterans on the list was 847,822. VA database procedures are poor enough that the disaster is not actually as bad as it first appears. In fact, the VA has no method of removing the deceased from the database, meaning that deaths accumulate year over year. The list has existed in one form or another since 1985, but according to whistleblower Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, the list only dates back to 1998.
- Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died from negligence and over-prescription policies at Tomah VA
Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died last year from systematic and avoidable failures at the Tomah VA facility in Wisconsin, according to an inspector general report in August. Physicians prescribed Simcakoski with a toxic mixture of drugs. The doctors did not provide any advance warning about potential medication interactions either to his family or to him. The story gets worse. When nurses discovered Simcakoski in distress at the inpatient psychiatry unit, they did not use the emergency call system, and they also failed to use reviving drugs within 30 minutes.
An inspector general report released in September found that a total of 307,000 veterans had died while waiting for care. The IG listed the total number of veterans with pending applications at 867,000.
- VA executives fraudulently obtained $400,000 in relocation expenses
On September 28, the VA inspector general released a report showing that executives Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves used their authority to pressure subordinates to move to other roles, so that Rubens and Graves could then move to the empty positions, collect an executive-level salary for fewer responsibilities and accept a generous amount of money for relocation expenses. During a congressional hearing on the matter, both Rubens and Graves pled the Fifth Amendment when asked questions. So egregious was the abuse of authority that the inspector general referred criminal charges to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia, but the office recently declined to pursue charges. The VA is also uninterested in regaining the fraudulently obtained relocation funds from the executives, though it has moved to demote the two to general employee status. That demotion has failed because the VA forgot to provide a crucial binder of evidence to the executives. The VA intends to retry the demotion.
- John Wooditch, former VA inspector general and serial masturbator
A report uncovered by The Daily Caller News Foundation in December found that John Wooditch, the VA’s former inspector general, resigned after he was caught masturbating in his all-glass office, with the intent of getting people to watch him during the act. During his tenure, he testified numerous times in front of Congress about integrity at the department.
He resigned in 2008 after he lied to investigators, who then proceeded to show him irrefutable evidence of his actions. He of course received his full federal pension and faced neither criminal charges, nor disciplinary action.
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