House committee: Obama administration refuses to answer to oversight on veteran issues

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

Despite an outbreak of preventable veteran deaths at VA clinics, the Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not responded to nearly 100 requests for information from the House committee that has oversight over VA.

VA’s lack of transparency has prompted Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, to inaugurate an unprecedented new pastime: writing weekly letters to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki seeking overdue information on requests dating back more than a year.

The department has created “mounting frustration for committee members” and a “major impediment to the basic oversight responsibilities of the committee,” according to the committee.

VA has failed to return important requests for documents and emails pertaining to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease at a Pittsburgh clinic that claimed five veteran lives, information on mental health hiring practices and performance standards for mental health providers and information on lavish conference spending.

The Daily Caller revealed that VA oversaw three preventable veteran deaths at a clinic in Memphis due to errors and negligence, according to a recent Inspector General’s report, even granting a five-figure bonus to a top clinic executive despite longstanding concerns about the clinic’s practices.

VA also recently admitted that six veteran deaths were linked to delayed cancer screenings at a VA facility in South Carolina and a report claimed that appointment delays led to veterans being harmed in Augusta, Ga. (Related: Documents: Obama administration VA oversaw preventable veteran deaths.)

“Given that these tragic events are part of a pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient-safety issues at VA hospitals around the country, it’s well past time for the department to put its employees on notice that anyone who lets patients fall through the cracks will be held fully responsible,” Rep. Miller told TheDC.

“Until VA leaders make a serious attempt to address the department’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability, I fear we’ll only see more of these lapses in care.”

VA, which did not return TheDC’s request for comment, has similarly stonewalled other press outlets.

The Daily Caller counted 22 instances of VA refusing, declining, or neglecting to comment on media stories about its practices since the 2012 election. The stories have appeared local and national outlets, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Business Times, ABC Atlanta, CBS Dallas Fort Worth, The Santa Fe New Mexican, ABC Waco, and CBS Waco.

“VA officials have for months declined requests for interviews and provided limited information for publication, ignoring phone calls that might require them to respond to questions about Legionella,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

The department, which has more than 400,000 backlogged veteran benefit claims, spent more than $3.5 million on furniture on the last day of the 2013 fiscal year, the eve of the government shutdown, as part of a more than $7.5 million one-day spending spree.

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