Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014

The Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014 is a reported pattern of negligence in the treatment of United States military veterans. Critics charged that patients at the VHA hospitals had not met the target of getting an appointment within 14 days. In some hospitals, the staff falsified appointment records to appear to meet the 14-day target. Some patients died while they were on the waiting list; reports differ about whether they died because of the delay. Defenders agreed that it was unacceptable to falsify data, but the 14-day target was unrealistic in understaffed facilities like Phoenix, and most private insurers did not meet a 14-day target either. By most measures, the VHA system provides “excellent care at low cost,” wrote Paul Krugman, who believes that the attack on the VHA system are motivated by conservatives who want to discredit a government program that works well. Conservative legislators have proposed privatizing the VHA, and legislative reforms will make it easier for veterans to go to private doctors.

CNN reported on April 30, 2014 that at least 40 United States Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix, Arizona, Veterans Health Administration facilities. By June 5, 2014, Veterans Affairs internal investigations had identified 35 veterans who had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix VHA system. An investigation of delays in treatment throughout the Veterans Health Administration system is being conducted by the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, and the House has passed legislation to fund a $1 million criminal investigation by the Justice Department. On May 16, 2014, the Veterans Health Administration’s top health official, Dr. Robert Petzel, retired early at the request of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. On May 30, 2014, Secretary Shinseki resigned from office amid the fallout from the controversy. As of early June 2014, several other VA medical centers around the nation have been identified with the same problems as the Phoenix facility, and the investigations by the VA Inspector General, the Congress and others are widening. An internal VA audit released June 9, 2014 found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care and that schedulers were pressured to use unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices to make waiting times appear more favorable. On June 11, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a criminal investigation of the VA. President Barack Obama ordered a White House investigation. On June 27, 2014, Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Rob Nabors, reported “significant and chronic system failures” and a “corrosive culture” inside the Veterans Health Administration. In August 2014, Obama signed Congressional legislation regarding funding and reform of the Veterans Health Administration.

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