Texas Veterans’ Hospital Run Like a ‘Crime Syndicate’: Whistleblowers
Can you think of any more despicable behaviour?
Send these criminals off to war for a few tours and give them a taste of what it’s like and let the chips fall as they may. Let them get body parts blown off. Let them experience cancer and other diseases resulting from chemical and bio-warfare. Let them have nightmares and flashbacks to the point they can’t sleep. Let them live on mind-altering drugs to numb the pain and anguish. It’s only fitting. They’re basically playing Russian Roulette with veterans’ lives; playing God. They have no right.
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Last week, President Obama pledged to address allegations of corruption and dangerous inefficiencies in the veteran’s healthcare system. But before the president could deliver on his pledge, the scandal has spread even further. New whistleblower testimony and internal documents implicate an award-winning VA hospital in Texas with widespread wrongdoing – and what appears to be systemic fraud.
Emails and VA memos obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast provide what is among the most comprehensive accounts yet of how high-level VA hospital employees conspired to game the system. It shows not only how they manipulated hospital wait lists but why – to cover up the weeks and months veterans spent waiting for needed medical care. If those lag times had been revealed, it would have threatened the executives’ bonus pay.
What’s worse, the documents show the wrongdoing going unpunished for years, even after it was repeatedly reported to local and national VA authorities. That indicates a new troubling angle to the VA scandal: that the VA may be incapable of finding violations of its own rules that are hiding in plain sight.
“For lack of a better term, you’ve got an organized crime syndicate,” a whistleblower who works in the Texas VA told The Daily Beast. “People up on top are suddenly afraid they may actually be prosecuted and they’re pressuring the little guys down below to cover it all up.”
“I see it in the executive’s eyes,” the whistleblower added. “They are worried.”
The current VA scandal broke in Phoenix last month, when a former doctor at a VA hospital there became the first whistleblower to gain national attention. The allegations made by the doctor of falsified appointments — and veterans dying while they waited for treatment — unleashed a wave of similar claims from VA employees nationwide. In Cheyenne, Wyoming, Chicago, and Albuquerque, more VA whistleblowers came forward claiming that the same fraudulent scheduling was being used in the hospitals where they worked.
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The torrent of claims led to Senate hearings, calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, multiple investigations and President Obama’s own public statement last week. But the root causes of the VA crisis have remained murky – until now.
There’s enormous pressure to report favorable wait times for VA patients, the Texas whistleblower explained, even if those wait times are completely false.
“If [VA] directors report low numbers, they’re the outlier. They won’t stay a director very long and they certainly won’t get promoted. No one is getting rewarded for honesty. They pretty much have to lie, if they don’t they won’t go anywhere,” the whistleblower added. Weighted more heavily than other performance measure, the wait time numbers alone “count for 50% of the executive career field bonus, which is a pretty powerful motivator.”
The whistleblower — who will alternately be called “the clinician,” referring to the job they have held with the Texas VA for almost a decade — asked to remain anonymous due to fear of losing their job or being otherwise punished for speaking out.
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ANATOMY OF A FRAUD
The clinician has been alerting authorities to the wrongdoing at their facility for years but the corruption has persisted despite multiple reports and investigations by the VA’s inspector general.
The case of Dr. Joseph Spann, a recently retired doctor who reported malfeasance in the Texas VA system where he worked for 17 years, raises the possibility that official investigations may only be hiding the problems they were charged to root out.
After retiring in January of this year Spann sent a letter to VA investigators accusing a VA employee of manipulating patient wait lists to hide treatment delays for veterans. The rigged reporting scheme Spann described in his letter, which threatens veterans’ lives by delaying their treatment, is the same method that has been exposed in Phoenix, Cheyenne, Albuquerque and scores of other VA hospitals across the country.
According to Spann, Dr. Gordon Vincent, chief of radiology at Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center in Temple, Texas, didn’t just break VA policy by manipulating veterans’ appointments himself. He ordered VA employees across the state to engage in the same fraudulent practice.
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The VA said it investigated Spann’s charges, and, after, finding nothing to substantiate the claims, cleared Vincent and the Texas VA.
But documents obtained by The Daily Beast appear to show Dr. Vincent doing precisely what Spann accused him of – the activities the VA said it could not substantiate.
In the above document, taken from the VA’s internal record system, you can see Dr. Vincent cancel an ultrasound appointment for a veteran suffering from cirrhosis. Vincent tells the doctor who submitted the original order to change the desired date – the day the provider selected for the procedure based on their diagnosis and clinical judgement – citing the facility’s patient backlog.
Veterans are supposed to be seen within 14 days of their desired date, according to VA policy.
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