The outrage surrounding the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center’s botched gastrointestinal program reached the national stage Monday, with representatives from two veteran advocacy groups demanding justice for the three cancer patients who died needlessly because of the clinic’s lack of care.
“Veterans of Foreign Wars is concerned with every veteran’s death at every Veterans Affairs medical facility, especially if the death might have been preventable,” Joe Davis, the nonprofit organization’s public affairs director, said in an e-mailed statement. “We insist that those deemed responsible be held properly accountable. America’s veterans and their families deserve no less.”
Davis declined to further elaborate on who might be to blame; however, the House Committee of Veterans Affairs is investigating former director Rebecca Wiley as the possible central figure in the program’s downfall.
According to a 2012 report from the VA Inspector General’s Office, nearly 90 percent of the medical center’s 5,100 unresolved consults might be connected to Wiley’s administration, which lasted from February 2007 to December 2010.
The board has requested a copy of all performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions Wiley received as far back as 2007.
Harold Grimes, the former national commander of the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, said he believes Wiley is very much responsible for what happened at the Augusta hospital and should be held accountable.
Until Wiley left Augusta, Grimes said he was involved in an ongoing battle with the former director to negotiate disability compensation claims for veterans who were not receiving proper and timely care for problems related to gastrointestinal illnesses, diabetes, cancer and bipolar disorder.
Eventually, Grimes said, he got all outstanding claims adjudicated, but some took as long as two years.
“It was a constant effort on our part,” he said. “Veterans were being stonewalled.”
Grimes would not say how many claims he had awarded, but he said for almost five years, he would open a new one each day.
Since 2012, when current director Bob Hamilton took command of the hospital, Grimes said he has received no complaints.
Grimes said Wiley thought of her position strictly as one related to administrative operations and staff – not veteran outreach.
“She was very arrogant and uncaring,” he said. “She was totally oblivious to the need of veterans.”