Veteran’s Affairs Hospitals have long been a valuable and helpful resource for our elderly military population. These hospitals routinely provide affordable and extensive medical services to veterans and military families that they would not be able to receive anywhere else. However, one VA hospital in Arizona has recently come under intense scrutiny from the United States Senate, which may result in a nationwide investigation into the management and care at these valuable medical facilities.
Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are calling for a Senate investigation and hearings into allegations that up to 40 Arizona veterans died while awaiting medical appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.The two senators from Arizona sent a letter Wednesday to leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs requesting a probe into “recent reports of gross mismanagement and neglect” at the Phoenix facility. Last week, Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the panel’s investigators concluded as many as 40 Arizona veteran deaths could be related to VA delays in providing them medical care (some veterans say wait times to be seen at the hospital now average 55 days).
Miller also said panel investigators had evidence that officials at the Phoenix VA Health Care System kept two sets of records to hide lengthy wait times for patients seeking doctor appointments and treatment. Investigators alleged that the secret waiting list was used by senior management to conceal the fact that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. The Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs also is investigating the complaints about Arizona VA facilities. In response to these allegations, Phoenix VA Health Care System officials say they’ve asked for an external review by the Inspector General and will address any problems quickly.
The accusations of gross mismanagement, abuse, neglect, and wrongful deaths is nothing new for Veteran’s Affairs hospitals across the nation. As highlighted by a recent news article (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/03/va-pays-200-million-for-nearly-1-000-veterans-wrongful-deaths.html), Veteran’s Affairs has paid over $200 million for nearly 1,000 wrongful death cases of veteran patients. However, independent legal analysts say the nearly 1,000 wrongful death payments since 2001 represent only a small percentage of the veterans who have died because of malpractice by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Unlike private hospitals, where survivors can file cases in state and federal court and often win large punitive damages, families of patients who die under VA care must exhaust a months-long administrative review process before filing a lawsuit. Even if they succeed, families can win only actual, and not punitive, damages from the federal government. This process and result often deters many lawyers and other professionals from taking these cases to court on behalf of the veterans and their families.
Although not every Veteran’s Affairs hospital will be implicated in this investigation, it is important to remember that this Senate investigation may reveal key issues related to elder abuse, neglect, and mismanagement by medical care facilities. Due to the rapidly increasing population that is in need for elderly medical care, hospitals and other care facilities must be reminded of their duty and responsibility to provide safe and accurate medical care. There are significant legal consequences, both criminal and civil, that can result from a medical facilities care of an elderly patient, as we can learn from this Veteran’s Affairs situation.