The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs said Friday that the success of his congressional oversight visits to VA medical centers in Augusta and Columbia next week will hinge on one element: cooperation.
“Given that the tragic events in Augusta and Columbia are part of a pattern of at least 21 recent preventable veteran deaths and other patient-safety issues at VA hospitals nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ full cooperation with the committee’s investigation is absolutely essential to ensuring the VA delivers the top-quality medical care America’s veterans deserve,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said in a statement.
Miller will visit the Charlie Norwood and Williams Bryan Jennings Dorn medical centers Monday.
Miller said the oversight visits are the result of at least nine preventable deaths linked to delays in medical care at the Columbia and Augusta facilities.
The issue of delays in care at the hospitals surfaced as part of a March committee hearing. Investigative efforts identified more than 4,500 unresolved gastrointestinal consultations at the Augusta VA and a backlog of nearly 3,000 consults in Columbia.
“Monday’s oversight visits will provide an opportunity for members of Congress to hear directly from VA officials in Augusta and Columbia regarding the steps department leaders have taken to address problems with delays in care and hold accountable VA employees and executives who may be responsible for allowing patients to slip through the cracks,” Miller said.
In September, Miller’s committee requested copies of all current accounts of appointment backlogs and patient injuries. It also asked for any records reflecting performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions issued since 2002 to those who oversee patient safety in Augusta.
Singled out in the reports was Rebecca Wiley, who served as the director at each facility at different times from 2007-13.
Officials said the department delivered the first documents Friday.
Once committee investigators have had a chance to review the documents, its members have said they will decide how to proceed with the review and work with House counsel to determine how the information can be released publicly in accordance with privacy laws.
“When the department drags its feet in providing information requested by Congress, it inhibits our ability to ensure America’s veterans are receiving the care and benefits they have earned,” Miller said. “Our veterans deserve a VA that sets the standard for openness, honesty and transparency. When the department fails to do so, we will make sure it has to answer for that failure.”